Construction started on April 21 on the Grid Storage Launchpad (GSL), a Department of Energy (DOE) project that aims to overcome challenges in battery research and development (R&D) while working on technology that will ultimately make the country’s power grid more secure, flexible and resilient. The GSL will enable research and testing of current and new grid energy storage technologies up to 100 kilowatts, including prototypes, according to an article in Renewable Energy World.
The DOE’s Office of Electricity chose the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in Richland, Wash., as the site for the national grid energy storage R&D facility. The GSL will conduct independent testing and validation for next-generation energy storage materials, devices and prototypes under grid operating conditions; work to integrate existing materials development with industry and universities; and develop grid performance standards, according to the GSL’s website.
The $75 million facility received federal funding and investments from Washington, nonprofit Battelle and PNNL, including $8.3 million from the state of Washington’s Clean Energy Fund. Harvey-Cleary Builders and Kirksey Architecture will design and build the GSL. In 2021, the same companies built the $90 million Energy Sciences Center research facility on the PNNL-Richland, Wash., campus.
The GSL supports the DOE’s Energy Storage Grand Challenge, which draws on research capabilities of the DOE National Laboratories, universities and industry to accelerate the development of energy storage technologies and bolster the domestic manufacturing supply chain, according to the DOE’s Office of Electricity.
“Grid energy storage is a critical step on the path to getting more renewable power on the system, supporting a growing fleet of electric vehicles, making the grid more reliable, and securing the clean energy future,” according to the GSL site. “Accelerating the development and testing of new energy storage technologies that are more cost-effective, safe, and durable is crucial to meeting the Administration’s goal of providing clean, affordable, and resilient energy to everyone, everywhere, anytime.”
America’s aging transmission system leaves electric grids around the country vulnerable and unreliable, and it causes utilities to spend $51 billion annually on their distribution systems. Across the country, 70% of power transformers are 25 years or older, 60% of circuit breakers are 30 years or older and 70% of transmission lines are 25 years or older, according to a 2015 DOE report.
Utilities are upgrading and replacing old equipment such as poles, wires and substation transformers to become more resilient to extreme weather events and allow for easier frequency and voltage control when emergencies arise, according to an article in Utility Dive. Utility distribution spending has risen 54% since 1997, while annual capital investment for electric distribution systems nearly doubled, according to analysis from the Energy Information Administration.
As Texas witnessed last winter, an extreme winter storm can cause massive electricity generation failure. In February 2021, winter storm Uri left 4.5 million homes without power, caused 57 deaths and more than $195 billion in property damage, according to a July 2021 report from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, “The Timeline and Events of the February 2021 Texas Electric Grid Blackouts.”
The extreme cold limited the ability of Texas power plants to produce energy, power production slowed from all sources and the grid was ultimately severely damaged. At the height of the storm, over half of the state’s natural gas supply was shut down due to weather conditions, frozen equipment and power outages, according to the Texas Tribune.
“With climate change bringing more extreme storms like Uri, we urgently need strong investments in the grid of the future,” said the Natural Resources Defense Council on their blog.
The Biden administration’s Build Back Better Framework has been touted as a historic investment in transmission. But many have warned that a year after the storm that overwhelmed Texas’ electrical grid and caused a deadly blackout, “officials have done little to prevent the next one—which could be far worse,” according to an article in Texas Monthly.
The launchpad, expected to open for occupancy in 2023, will host 35 research laboratories, offices for about 105 staff, testing chambers and a laboratory focused on fundamental material properties of storage technologies. It will include two Thermo Fisher electron microscopes and a spectrometer, which will enable researchers to assess how battery materials change through the charge and discharge process.