Union of Concerned Scientists

Putting Communities First in Deploying Energy Storage

A wide range of stakeholders just released a set of principles for equity and energy storage.
A wide range of stakeholders from across the country met in December 2018 to develop a set of principles to ensure equitable deployment of energy storage technologies. (Photo: Megan Rising/UCS)

UCS convened a select group of stakeholders in December 2018 to discuss policies to spur deployment of energy storage. But this meeting was not your typical policy development session—we focused on how to design policies that put communities first. UCS focused on not only deploying more energy storage, which is an important part of the clean energy transition, but also doing so in a way that involves community members and drives equitable outcomes. The stakeholders present at December’s convening developed a set of consensus principles based on the discussions there and conversations since.

Fully 26 participating organizations have endorsed the principles on equitable deployment of energy storage.

The opportunity

When combined with investments in clean energy, storage has the potential to hasten retirements of coal and even natural gas plants across the country. This is critical not only for our climate and decarbonization goals, but also to improve air quality in frontline communities. Utility-scale storage is already being procured to replace three natural gas plants in California. Experts predict energy storage will be a $3.8 billion industry by 2023.

Energy storage has a wide range of potential applications, and UCS recognizes and emphasizes the potential for storage to benefit disadvantaged communities. Because of the potential community benefits, UCS focused in on a couple of important use cases for storage: replacement of peaking power plants and fossil-fired plants; ability to keep the lights on and bounce back more quickly from  power outages; and accelerating the development and integration of renewable energy on the grid. Our focus on energy storage is not meant to preclude other carbon reduction policies or the need for renewable energy policies, but rather to lift up energy storage deployment policy as a key complementary policy. We also recognize that much work remains to be done to fully capture the value that storage can provide to the market and customers.

Involving stakeholders

UCS convened a group of diverse stakeholders, including environmental justice and grassroots organizations, policy experts, solar and storage industries, labor, consumer advocates, faith groups, and renewable energy advocates, in December 2018 in Chicago, Illinois, focused on the equitable deployment of energy storage. The participants developed a set of consensus principles for storage deployment that elevate the critical importance of community-led clean energy solutions. Together these principles can help state policymakers focus on solutions that ensure that the growth of energy storage improves all communities.

As far as we can tell, this event was the first of its kind. Typically, policy wonks gather in a room to think up ideas about how to drive the outcomes they think are important. And while those expert opinions are obviously important, we wanted to know what affected communities thought about the desired outcomes and how to get there. We see this process as an important contribution to our collective work to drive a transition to a clean energy economy.

Goals

The purpose of the convening was to develop policy recommendations, strategic relationships, and political momentum to accelerate the equitable, safe, and low-carbon deployment of energy storage in the US at the state level.

Our goals for the convening were to:

  • Create a core set of policy design elements on equitable, safe, and low-carbon energy storage policy deployment that can influence state legislation in 2019 and beyond.
  • Build momentum in a set of target states with a broader coalition for equitable, safe, and low-carbon storage deployment policies.
  • Produce both short-term and longer-term materials for broad distribution that advance these goals.

This convening on state-level deployment of energy storage built on an earlier convening that UCS held in March 2018 in Washington, DC. That earlier event brought together leading researchers to identify the most important breakthroughs needed to scale up electricity storage as well as ways the federal government can support innovation in this strategically important industry. It was sponsored by the bipartisan House Advanced Energy Storage Caucus and resulted in a policy brief which synthesizes the discussions, including recommendations for federal policy-makers on how to best support electricity storage RD&D that drives innovation, lowers electricity prices, and increases the reliability of the US electric grid.

The principles

Prior to December’s convening, UCS set the stage with some initial thoughts and ideas about what equity might looks like in the context of energy storage deployment. The stakeholders then expanded and shaped the concepts and ultimately outlined six principles of equitable policy design for energy storage. They grappled with the following questions:

  • How can storage be deployed to reduce emissions and improve air quality?
  • How can storage make communities and residents more resilient to disasters and power outages?
  • How can storage promote local economic development and job growth?
  • How can storage help accelerate greater levels of renewable energy on the grid?
  • How can storage help reduce electricity bills?
  • How can policymakers ensure that communities have a seat at the table?

Read the full text of the principles with the list of supporting organizations here.

Outcomes and Next Steps

For this discussion, we focused on three states—Minnesota, Illinois, and Maryland—where we saw opportunities for advancing storage legislation in the near term. Participants represented these three states, and other stakeholders attended who shared perspectives from leading states and nationally.

We know that our convening brought together people who would not otherwise have met, and we saw that dynamic play out in hallway conversations throughout our two-day event. We also know that some of those relationships have continued beyond the convening.

While UCS and many of the convening attendees are focused on advancing equitable energy storage policy in these three states, our hope is that these principles can be used more broadly to inform policy and to shape the way legislators and storage advocates are conceiving of the opportunities afforded by energy storage.

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