This Politico article discusses an unexpected current that’s remaking American politics. New forms of electricity storage are making the grid more renewable and more reliable—and may change the politics of climate change.
At the annual National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Washington this month, President Donald Trump made news with some curious remarks about wind power. What went viral was his untrue suggestion that the noise from wind turbines causes cancer, but his warning that home values instantly plunge 75 percent when a windmill is built nearby was equally false. He also claimed wind power is inordinately expensive, when in fact in much of America it is now the cheapest source of electricity. The president then play-acted a scene of a woman complaining to her husband about wind power’s supposed unreliability: “I can’t watch television, darling. Darling, please tell the wind to blow!”
That was baseless, too, yet at the same time it actually did refer to a serious challenge for the clean energy revolution: the “intermittency” of wind and solar electricity. As more renewable power replaces Trump’s preferred coal plants, and more states aim to eliminate fossil fuels from their electric grids, utilities are grappling with how to make sure they can ensure uninterrupted service when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. Some states are already starting to get major portions of their electricity from renewables, and while the president’s exaggerated scenario of weather-dependent TV reflects his general disdain for climate-friendly technologies, reliability could become an increasingly formidable problem as the grid gets increasingly green.
But now another technology revolution is underway that could help solve that problem: an electricity storage boom. The cost of lithium-ion batteries has plunged 85 percent in a decade, and 30 percent in just the past year, so utilities across the U.S. have started attaching containers full of them to the grid—and they’re planning to install far more of them in the coming years.