A Year in Review: Advancing Energy Storage and Conversion Research

Jan. 10, 2022

Graphic of solar panels, wind turbines, and hydrogen stationary storage.

The energy system of the future must successfully utilize large amounts of variable and intermittent renewable energy sources to meet demand for power generation, decarbonization, grid resilience, and energy efficiency.

Conversations in Transforming Energy Storage

This integrated approach to energy storage signifies a movement to identify synergies within diverse conversion and storage solutions. A new seminar series hosted by NREL is advancing discussion between government, industry, and academia about how hybrid systems and collaborative research will achieve clean energy goals.

Register now.

As communities across the country invest in renewable energy technologies, energy storage systems must be optimized to meet demand for power generation, decarbonization, grid resilience, and energy efficiency. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is focused on developing and accelerating the implementation of holistic future energy systems with purpose-driven, interconnected technologies that improve flexibility and balance to maximize renewable energy generation, storage, and conversion. Over the past year, NREL researchers have pioneered innovative, interdisciplinary, and integrated research and development for technology advancements in electrochemical, molecular, thermal, and mechanical energy storage systems.

As a result of NREL’s groundbreaking energy storage research, R&D World magazine recognized the Wave Energy Converter Simulator (WEC-Sim) as one of the 100 most innovative technologies of the past year with an R&D 100 Award. WEC-Sim is the first open-source code allowing wave energy developers to simulate WEC dynamics and performance—dramatically reducing the uncertainty around how WECs will perform in real-world marine environments—which lowers costs and reduces R&D cycle time in this pivotal and growing field.

Research Reveals Opportunities in Integrated Energy Storage

New NREL Report Details Current State and Vast Future Potential of U.S. Geothermal Power and Heat

The 2021 U.S. Geothermal Power Production and District Heating Market Report developed at NREL showcases the current state of geothermal energy use in the United States and identifies geothermal opportunities for a renewable, decarbonized energy system. Innovative approaches to geothermal district heating involve integrating heat pump technology and thermal energy storage, as well as implementation and optimization of energy districts. This report will be valuable for policymakers, regulators, developers, researchers, engineers, financiers, and other decision makers.

Graphic of a power plant.

Particle thermal energy storage systems can be constructed with existing infrastructure from retired coal and gas power plants. Image by Jeffrey Gifford and Patrick Davenport, NREL

NREL Options a Modular, Cost-Effective, Build-Anywhere Particle Thermal Energy Storage Technology

NREL researchers developed a prototype to test a game-changing new thermal energy storage technology using inexpensive silica sand as a storage medium. Economic Long-Duration Electricity Storage by Using Low-Cost Thermal Energy Storage and High-Efficiency Power Cycle (ENDURING) is a reliable, cost-effective, and scalable solution that can be sited anywhere. The baseline system is designed for economical storage of up to a staggering 26,000 MWh of thermal energy, offering building and industrial process heating opportunities to replace coal or natural gas. NREL has partnered with Babcock & Wilcox, who has an exclusive intellectual property option agreement to license this ENDURING thermal energy storage technology.

New Financial Analysis Tool for Long-Duration Energy Storage in Deeply Decarbonized Grids

Researchers at NREL developed a rigorous new Storage Financial Analysis Scenario Tool (StoreFAST) model to identify potential long-duration storage opportunities in the framework of a future electric grid with 85% renewables penetration. StoreFAST analyzes both energy storage systems and flexible power generation systems on a side-by-side basis to provide insights into the levelized cost of energy, financial performance parameters, and time series charts that will be vital to integrated energy storage research. A recent Joule article used StoreFAST to identify clean hydrogen systems with geologic storage and natural gas with carbon capture and sequestration as the lowest-cost options for long durations of energy storage.

Photo of a hydropower dam

About 2,500 dams across the United States produce electricity. Pictured here is Gross Reservoir Dam in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Brent Olson, U.S. Department of Energy

NREL Develops FLASH Hydropower Framework for a Greener Grid

The new Framework for Linked Analysis of Streamflow and Hydropower (FLASH) tool provides insight into how much hydropower is available and when, improving hydropower's representation within grid operations models. FLASH will help users better understand the link between river-basin operations and hydropower’s availability, opening new opportunities for renewable energy to support the grid. Unlike wind or solar power, hydropower not used today can be stored for later use and has the additional advantage that it does not have to be converted into another form of energy. That makes hydropower ideal for helping the grid accommodate variable renewable energy sources.

NREL Advances in Battery Research with Physics-Based Machine Learning Accelerate Characterization of Cell Performance, Lifetime, and Safety

Energy storage scientists at NREL are turning to cutting-edge machine-learning techniques to strengthen their understanding of advanced battery materials, chemistries, and cell designs. These complex computer algorithms help accelerate the characterization of battery performance, lifetime, and safety by offering insights into potential patterns within data sets. Researchers are using machine learning and artificial intelligence to evaluate manufacturing quality, lifetime and performance, materials research, and safety protocols for energy storage applications.

Illustration of components in a renewable energy power system
The Storage Futures Study considers when and where a range of storage technologies are cost-competitive, depending on how they're operated and what services they provide for the grid.
Grid-Scale U.S. Storage Capacity Could Grow Fivefold by 2050

The Storage Futures Study considers when and where a range of storage technologies are cost-competitive, depending on how they're operated and what services they provide for the grid.
Ongoing research from NREL’s Storage Futures Study analyzes the potentially fundamental role of energy storage in maintaining a resilient, flexible electrical grid through the year 2050. NREL researchers are collaborating across technologies to consider the role of specific storage approaches. One report, Economic Potential of Diurnal Storage in the U.S. Power Sector, described the significant market potential for utility-scale diurnal storage (up to 12 hours) in the U.S. power system through 2050. The research team—Will Frazier, Wesley Cole, Paul Denholm, Scott Machen, Nathaniel Gates and Nate Blair—found storage adds the most value to the grid, and deployment increases when the power system allows storage to simultaneously provide multiple grid services and when there is greater solar photovoltaic penetration.

Learn more about NREL’s energy storage research.