March 21, 2024

Saluting the women leaders who drove U.S. energy storage policy

GridStor VP of Policy & Strategy, Jason Burwen, originally published this article at

To celebrate Women’s History Month, I took a moment to reflect on the domain I know best: energy storage and public policy. Women have been leaders in creating new public policies and updating regulatory frameworks and market designs to bring energy storage into the power sector. While there are always so many people to credit for our successes, I want to highlight a few of these leaders I’ve had the pleasure of getting to work with and around for the last decade. Indeed, their story is the story of the U.S. energy storage sector.

Building the market basis for energy storage

In 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved Order 755, creating the groundwork for compensating resources for their speed and precision in providing frequency regulation service in wholesale electricity markets. This happened only because former Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities Chair Judith Judson, then at flywheel-maker Beacon Power and Chair of the Electricity Storage Association, had been undertaking tireless advocacy at FERC to get Order 755 done. In 2012, PJM enacted the first fast frequency regulation market design, launching the U.S. battery storage industry—growing from 32 MW of batteries (and 30 MW of flywheels!) installed in the region that year to 300 MW cumulatively the subsequent five years. This was only the first act for Judith, who would go on to become Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources and implement the state’s first energy storage targets and the first-of-its-kind Clean Peak Standard, an early portend of current policy efforts to time-match clean energy deliveries with power demand.

In 2013, Texas’ ERCOT market followed suit, establishing its own fast frequency regulation market—in part thanks to the advocacy of Suzi McClellan, former ERCOT board member and Texas Office of Public Utility Counsel attorney, who advocated extensively on behalf of the Texas Energy Storage Alliance. Not only would Texas’s market spur its own boomlet of battery storage growth after this policy change, but also Suzi’s innovative thinking on market design and the needs of a renewables-heavy grid would ultimately inform the development of the first fast frequency response market service in the world—and one where battery storage has proven to perform first among assets.

Indeed, before incentives and targets, the fundamental economics and value proposition of battery storage was borne out in these early electricity markets, thanks to the foresight and sophistication that Judith and Suzi brought to storage advocacy.

Launching the California storage revolution

In 2010, California Assembly Member (now State Senator) Nancy Skinner led the charge to pass AB 2514—the first state legislation to set targets for the deployment of energy storage. It’s hard to state how forward-looking this was: at that time that the first batteries were just beginning to participate in eastern frequency regulation markets. Few policy roadmaps and priorities documents identified energy storage as playing a key role to increase renewable energy use and decarbonize the power system. Nancy would go on to sponsor and pass further legislation on battery storage, electric vehicle charging, and a number of other topics pushing forward California’s storage ambitions.

California Public Utility Commissioner Carla Peterman led the implementation of AB 2514, ultimately deciding in 2013 to set California’s target for energy storage deployment at 1,325 MW by 2020. This was an incredible number at the time—only 130 MW of battery storage was online in the entire U.S. that year, with almost all of it outside California. By approving that target, the CPUC created a stable, long-term demand signal that spurred developers to begin making investments in real projects, and California’s utilities began the hard work of integrating storage into planning and procurements for the first time anywhere in the country. California would go on to smash that target, ending 2023 with a cumulative 6,600 MW battery storage installed – over 4 times as much as the original target.

California’s integrated resource plans rely on energy storage as the backbone of reliability and a central pillar of California’s world-leading efforts at decarbonization—thanks to these two incredible leaders.

Updating the state regulatory approach

Sometimes leadership comes from places you wouldn’t expect. In 2016, Elaine Hart was a Principal Analyst for Integrated Resource Planning at the utility Portland General Electric. Her sub-hourly modeling and analysis incorporating battery energy storage into PGE’s integrated resource plan was a path-breaking approach to capturing the flexible operations of storage and its potential role as a reliability resource for the utility. That vision of energy storage as a resource capable of providing reliability and her approach to incorporating it into the IRP process laid the groundwork for copying by other utilities across the country in subsequent years: whereas in 2016 PGE had the first IRP to do this, by 2018 about half of utility IRPs had begun incorporating energy storage in similar ways.

Drawing from those insights, in 2017 Commissioner Ann Rendahl and her colleagues on the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission put forward the first policy statement by a PUC guiding utilities for how to incorporate energy storage into long-term resource planning. Not only did the statement include key concepts from PGE’s IRP in the previous year, but also the UTC included the first-ever prudency requirement that t cost-recovery for new utility investments would be incumbent upon a demonstration that storage was duly considered as an investment option. This kind of holistic approach to storage in planning would be emulated by other utility commissions in subsequent years, culminating adoption of a resolution by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in 2018 calling for all utilities to incorporate and model storage in integrated resource plans.

Today there are dozens of gigawatts of energy storage planned by utilities across the country, thanks in part to the early work Elaine and Ann did to elevate storage in resource planning.

Uniting the storage industry together

In 2009, Strategen CEO Janice Lin co-founded the California Energy Storage Alliance—the first state-level energy storage trade association. Her vision of a new emerging sector and sense of timing of the California policy landscape was responsible in good measure for the support that would become AB 2514, and CESA’s relentless advocacy was critical for ensuring continued progress in California over the next decade and a half as the only dedicated voice for the storage sector in the state—leading to wins like huge increases to distributed storage incentives, the first long duration storage plans in an IRP, the accelerated development of storage market modeling and rules at the California ISO, among many other advanced.

In 2017, former Maryland Public Service Commissioner Kelly Speakes-Backman became the CEO of the U.S. Energy Storage Association (and my boss), bringing increased stature to the energy storage sector at the federal level. Under her leadership, ESA expanded its size and scope, testifying to Congress and generating the advocacy groundwork for what would ultimately become the storage ITC in the lead up to the Inflation Reduction Act.

Politics is a group sport, and both Janice and Kelly provided leadership a key junctures that united the voices of the U.S. storage sector to accomplish real change.

Driving federal storage investments

At a time when Congressional support for energy storage was still growing, U.S. Senator Susan Collins decided to become a champion. She sponsored original legislation, the Better Energy Storage Technology Act, to establish half a billion dollars in innovation investments for longer-duration storage technologies—which was ultimately passed in an omnibus bill in 2020 and fully funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. She also was the Republican co-sponsor for the 2021 legislation to establish an investment tax credit specifically for energy storage resources, which helped push it into the many drafts of legislation that would ultimately become the Inflation Reduction Act.

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm has since taken charge of guiding federal investment in energy storage, including as leader of a new U.S. industrial policy channeling billions of dollars to standing up new domestic capacities at every step of the battery supply chain. She also led reorganization of the Department of Energy to stand up the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations as the home of many of the new storage technology innovation investments, thereby creating an institutional home for proving out new storage technologies for years to come.

Battery energy storage has never had brighter prospects for growth and innovation, thanks to the significant new federal investments that Senator Collins and Secretary Granholm have driven forward.