Battery storage is key to scaling renewable energy. Here’s why.

Rachel Harper used to work in the oil and gas industry in Texas and never thought she’d be working next to solar panels all day.

“It’s a much calmer environment,” Harper said. “I prefer that more.”

He now works at a California startup called B2U, which takes usable batteries from older electric vehicles, puts them in large racks, and then connects them to solar panels so they can store solar energy.

“We’re basically a retirement home for electric vehicle batteries,” Harper said.

Battery storage allows renewable energy to be delivered even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. This is key to ensuring the reliability of the electric grid as the United States transitions away from coal and gas and their planet-warming emissions. Batteries also help keep the lights on when Heatwaves strain power grids.

Mike Ferry, director of energy storage and systems at the University of California, San Diego, is a pioneer in next-generation battery technologies.

He says batteries are getting better and better, and costs are falling. That has allowed California install more than 10,000 megawatts of batteries, equivalent to about five nuclear power plants, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

California and Texas account for 85% of the country’s battery storage, according to Ferry. The two states combined have more than any other country except China, which has 31,400 megawatts of battery storage, according to the China National Energy Administration.

“This year, 81% of all new capacity on our national grid will come from solar and storage. The two technologies go hand in hand, a bit like chocolate and peanut butter,” Ferry said.

Nationally, solar is the fastest-growing form of renewable energy, but it still accounts for only about 5% of electricity generated. In California, it’s nearly 30%, thanks to massive new projects like the one in the Mojave Desert, where an array of 2 million solar panels near Edwards Air Force Base can be seen from space.

The 4,000-acre facility is the largest solar energy storage facility in the country and has enough energy to power about a quarter of a million homes.

“If that didn’t happen, I think renewable energy would hit its limit pretty quickly,” said Gus Luna, chief development officer at Terra-Gen, the company that built the site.

California, the world’s fifth-largest economy, has a goal of generating 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2045.

“You’ll probably need about 20, maybe 30, more projects like this to be able to achieve that,” Luna said.

To make all these panels and turbines work, batteries are needed.

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Renewable energy success may depend on battery storage