Energy storage is considered a green technology. But it actually increases carbon emissions.
Energy storage (batteries and other ways of storing electricity, like pumped water, compressed air, or molten salt) has generally been hailed as a “green” technology, key to enabling more renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
But energy storage has a dirty secret. The way it’s typically used in the US today, it enables more fossil-fueled energy and higher carbon emissions. Emissions are higher today than they would have been if no storage had ever been deployed in the US.
This is not intrinsic to the technology, by any means. If deployed strategically, energy storage can do all the things boosters say, making the grid more flexible, unlocking renewable energy, and reducing emissions.
But only if it is deployed strategically, which it generally hasn’t been.
In and of itself, energy storage is neither clean nor dirty — it is neutral, as likely to boost the revenue of fossil fuel plants as it is to help clean energy. If policymakers want to use it as a tool to enable clean energy, they need to be conscious of its characteristics and smarter about its deployment.
Why energy storage increases emissions
There is a growing body of scholarly research around energy storage; the key paper on its emission effects is by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Eric Hittinger and Carnegie Mellon’s Inês Azevedo, in Environmental Science & Technology.
Modeling energy mixes and energy prices across the country, Hittinger and Azevedo determine that the deployment of energy storage increases emissions almost everywhere in the US today. Yikes.