Event Recap: Batteries for Vehicles and the Electric Grid

On June 11 the American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC) hosted the event “Batteries for Vehicles and the Electric Grid: Maximizing the Return on Federal R&D Investments” as part of the organization’s “Partners in Ingenuity” series, an on-going effort to bring together key stakeholders to address challenges facing energy technology R&D. The next event in the series is planned for the fall with a focus on commercialization.

The event featured remarks from Representatives Randy Hultgren (R-IL), Dan Lipinski (D-IL), and Paul Tonko (D-NY). Jason Burwen (Associate Director, Energy Innovation, BPC) moderated an expert panel consisting of Jeff Chamberlain (Executive Director, JCESR, Argonne National Lab), Haresh Kamath (Senior Program Manager, Energy Storage and Distributed Generation, Electric Power Research Institute), Steve LeVine (Washington Correspondent, Quartz), and Perry Wyatt (Director of Global Product Engineering, Johnson Controls Power Solutions). In front of a packed audience, the speakers and panelists addressed a number of valuable concepts highlighting the importance of the issues surrounding federal R&D investments in energy storage innovation. All of the speakers focused on the importance of the United States taking the lead in battery innovation.

According to Steve LeVine, the United States finds itself in a high stakes competition when it comes to battery innovation in the global marketplace, particularly with recent technological advancements in China, Japan, and South Korea. Haresh Kamath noted that Americans have historically led the way in battery development, yet recently other countries, including Japan’s development of cell phone battery technology, have effectively utilized public funding for generating competitive products. Jeff Chamberlain provided numeric context, explaining that of the $15 billion in GDP that was generated surrounding these technologies, South Korea, Japan, and China took the majority of it. In addition, there will be $40 – $100 billion in GDP available in this field in the coming years, and the U.S. must position itself through federal funding to take a greater share. Beyond small scale battery technology, Representative Hultgren discussed the potential of grid-based energy storage for enhancing America’s position in global competition. Clearly, federal investment is required not only to benefit American society, but also to better position itself in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

The forum also focused on how the United States could be become the global leader in the development of this critical technology, including:

  • Greater government investment: Innovation in energy storage developments, especially battery developments, needs to be a top priority for policymakers. As Rep. Tonko noted, it is important to view proposed federal action as “investments” rather than “spending,” as enhancing energy technology innovation benefits society for generations. Rep. Lipinski explained that the United States needs to be a leader in development to maintain leadership in energy innovation and storage, and that research on batteries are essential for developing these new projects. In order to attain these goals, Haresh Kamath noted, years of investment is required for an endowment for the future. This is a continuous process allowing federal investments to reduce the costs and risks of innovation that would otherwise set projects back by years. Jason Burwen commented that shale gas development stemmed from past federal investment, and that the next big energy technology innovation could take the form of battery development (for more information about the shale gas revolution, see AEIC’s case study). However, is the panelists agreed that more federal investment is necessary.
  • Issues beyond funding: Beyond increasing levels of federal investment, comprehensive policy surrounding the allocation of funds and their application over time is essential for fostering meaningful growth. However, this process is quite complicated. Steve Levine utilized a metaphor to describe the situation, noting that a “silver bullet” for solving these issues does exist, but that we might not always know exactly what it is. Jeff Chamberlain highlighted the daunting scientific challenges innovators face beyond funding, and Haresh Kamath noted that significant developments require large amounts of man power and time. On a positive note, Perry Wyatt pointed out that the processes associated with innovation can be just as important as the final product. Therefore, policies advocating for a tiered approach to investment and production, accompanied by appropriately tailored expectations, are the most desirable for energy storage innovation.
  • Public-private partnerships: The panel highlighted the need to augment public private partnerships. Jeff Chamberlain and Perry Wyatt highlighted the significant differences between the goals and products of national laboratories and private companies. Energy technology innovations often generate more shared benefits for society, rather than clear revenue streams, necessitating the development of public-private partnerships to push energy storage innovation. These partnerships employ cost-sharing mechanisms, which generate R&D efforts that neither participant could typically undertake on its own. Haresh Kamath’s concluding words addressed the fact that innovation in battery technology positively affects all industries and increased federal investment must be appropriated in order to truly realize these benefits.