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The U.S. electric grid has been described as the biggest machine on Earth. From home appliances, computers, and electronics all the way to commercial and industrial heating, cooling, and refrigeration, we depend on electric power. Electricity is essential to modern life, and the U.S. Department of Energy supports scientific research that ensures the Nation’s power grid runs safely and securely so that the United States has access to electricity at any time.

Powering the U.S. electrical grid

Fossil fuels are more widely used to generate electricity in the United States than any other resource, and they will continue to meet much of the Nation’s electricity demand for the next several decades. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, approximately 63 percent of U.S. electricity was generated from fossil fuels in 2019. And, per the International Energy Agency, coal is expected to be the largest source of global electricity production through 2040.

Current energy landscape

For decades, the U.S. electric grid has operated using an on-demand generation model, which has become increasingly difficult to manage due to the rise of variable renewables (wind and solar) on the energy grid. As the amount of variable generation increases in different regions and with minimal energy storage solutions, today’s fleet of existing coal-fired plants is operating at approximately 50 percent of capacity as it transitions from baseload to load-following power generation systems.

Nuclear and small and large-scale gas-fueled power generating assets are also cycling in response to load demand. Since both nuclear and fossil fuel-fired plants are required to operate at minimum loads for certain periods of time as they follow load demand, energy storage solutions can help operators utilize these plants to their fullest potential, allowing them to operate at high efficiency and store power until it is needed by the U.S. electrical grid.

Finding a way to store energy

In collaboration with the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), FE is managing an Advanced Energy Storage Program that is focused on integrating energy storage with fossil assets. The program supports the broader DOE-wide Energy Storage Grand Challenge which was announced by U.S. Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette in January 2020. This challenge is designed to position the Nation as a global leader in energy storage by 2030.

FE and NETL will work with partners in private industry, operators of electricity generating stations, and scientists in academia to produce research and development plans to develop energy storage technologies. This will give fossil-based systems more flexibility and keep components working longer, making the system more efficient and environmentally friendly. Working with stakeholders is critical to this undertaking, as they define the needs of the various use cases (for example, integrating storage with coal plants and gas plants).

A high-level overview of the program’s goals include:

  • Accelerating energy storage technology development
  • Enhancing the role of fossil assets as contributors to grid stability and reliability
  • Providing the Nation with a reliable fossil-based energy storage option

As a part of the program, FE issued a funding opportunity announcement (FOA) to advance energy storage technologies capable of improving the overall performance, reliability, and flexibility of fossil-fueled assets. For more information on this FOA, visit the Office of Fossil Energy’s website and be sure to check out NETL’s Advanced Energy Storage program website and brochure for more information on the program’s objectives.