Why energy storage is vital for international security

BY BEN COOK AND ROBERT MALTHOUSE

  • Ukraine invasion highlights role storage can play in security
  • Renewables projects need storage to make them more investable
  • With European sovereignty at stake, leaders may prioritise storage

They say the darkest hour is just before dawn.

As forces led by Russian president Vladimir Putin bring devastation and death in Ukraine, people around the world desperately search for hope.

For many at this time, this search is proving fruitless. But there are some that are determined to at least try and rekindle the light as the most ominous of dark clouds gather overhead.

Could the horrific images we see daily on our TV screens spark a revolution?

Possibly say some, and they call this revolution the distributed energy revolution.

One of the major benefits of a distributed energy revolution, its proponents say, is that it would stop nations using the proceeds from gas exports to inflict human suffering on other countries’ populations.

The distributed energy revolution: How it works

So what’s the theory? Come the distributed energy revolution, nations will produce all the energy they need within their own borders, so bringing an end to an era in which nations are dependent on other countries for their energy supply. Once a country is energy independent, it is no longer under pressure to do the bidding of other nations that provide it with energy. Then we’re on the path to peace and freedom, or so the theory goes at least.

And, as a number of commentators have observed in the nine days since Putin began his invasion of Ukraine, in the distributed energy revolution, storage will play a central role.

Let’s put this theory in its current context. While many countries around the world have imposed economic sanctions on Russia as a result of the Ukraine invasion, there is a view that, despite the sanctions, with major European nations heavily reliant on Russian gas, Putin will still have sufficient revenues from energy exports to finance large-scale military action.

Storage key to energy independence

Two days before the invasion of Ukraine took place, in response to Germany’s halting of the Russian-owned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, analysts put forward the argument that while nations could absorb wind and solar energy into grids as a substitute for some reductions in gas supply, there is insufficient energy storage in place, as yet, to deal with the intermittency associated with renewable energy.  

Put simply, a dramatic increase in energy storage is needed in order to put nations on the road to energy independence.

How storage could stop electricity blackouts

In light of the horrific scenes in the Ukraine that we are seeing in TV news broadcasts, it’s now time to envisage a world where every country has access to affordable energy that is generated within its own borders. This would mean that nations would be better able to stand up to aggressors due to the fact that they would not be reliant on their adversary for their energy supply. The wider adoption of energy storage will be vital if this goal is to be achieved. Why? Because it is energy storage that will enable all countries, big and small, to generate more reliable energy from the wind and the sun.

Energy storage makes renewable energy a more attractive proposition by making it more reliable. As renewable energy becomes more attractive, more of it will be installed, and the benefits of more renewable energy are manifold. Not least among them is the fact that, as recent studies have shown, electricity blackouts can be avoided – potentially even during severe weather events – by switching to 100 per cent clean and renewable energy.

European sovereignty is in jeopardy

There is a view in some quarters that the adoption of energy storage has not been as widespread as it could have been because climate change has, wrongly, not been considered a big enough problem to warrant action.

However, it is anticipated that the invasion of Ukraine could now focus minds. In a report in the Los Angeles Times last week, UC Berkeley energy professor Daniel Kammen — formerly science envoy for ex-Secretary of State John F. Kerry — said that Europe “has clearly needed higher motivations than climate change to cut the Gordian gas knot with Russia”. He added that one of the very few positives that may come out of the tragic situation in Ukraine is that it may stir the EU into taking steps to increase its energy storage capacity. “For all we talk about how inexpensive renewables are, and how quickly energy storage is coming down in price, that hasn’t been enough when it appears that ‘just’ the climate is at stake,” Kammen said. “Now European sovereignty is at stake.”

So, will the Ukraine crisis provide the necessary wake-up call for governments and companies to direct more resources to energy storage? It’s clear that some believe it’s a possiblity.

A Washington DC insider’s view

From the US’ perspective, there is a belief among some movers and shakers in Washington DC that providing support that enables countries – and in particularly former Soviet bloc countries – to reduce their dependence on Russian-sourced energy is in the country’s national interest. What does this mean in practice? One unnamed Washington DC insider says that it means assisting countries to develop domestic renewable energy capacity in addition to providing “technical assistance and development financing to include energy storage”.

What stock market analysts are saying

Stock market analysts InvestorPlace made their position clear on this issue in an article that was published on the Nasdaq website a few days before the invasion of Ukraine took place. InvestorPlace argued that the Ukraine crisis was actually part of a wider energy “reliability crisis”. InvestorPlace senior investment analyst Luke Lango was unequivocal: “We need to embrace the distributed energy revolution. The general idea is that in this revolution, we’re all energy-independent — no more relying on Russia or Qatar, no more grid, no more power outages.”

Lango continued: “We generate power on our own through rooftop solar panels. We store that power on our own with built-in battery storage solutions. And we deploy that power on our own through AI-powered algorithms that optimise energy usage throughout the day.”

The view from Ukraine

While Ukraine does not directly import natural gas from Russia, much of what it does procure from Europe originates there. The Ukranian government is well aware that this is an issue that needs addressing. Only last week, Yaroslav Demchenkov, deputy minister at the Ukraine ministry of energy, said in a social media post that, during an online meeting with Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, one of the topics of discussion was Ukraine’s energy sector reform and the “implementation of support programmes for Ukraine’s green transition, including an increase in renewable capacity and the development of hydrogen technologies and energy storage systems.”

If the long-term effects of climate change have not been sufficient motivation for the decarbonisation of the European economy, then Putin’s invasion of Ukraine surely will be.

The war emphasises the urgent need to transition to clean energy sources, such as wind and solar power. But it is imperative that these assets are coupled with energy storage in order to help combat intermittency, but more importantly, ensure international security and save lives.

We can but hope that a new dawn is not too far away.

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