Is inexpensive natural gas hindering the grid energy storage industry?
Grid energy storage is a maturing technology and forecasts of the industry's growth have been promising. However, recent years have realized little growth in actual deployments of grid-level storage and several high-profile storage companies and projects have failed. We hypothesize that falling natural gas prices have significantly reduced the potential profit from many U.S. energy storage projects since 2009 and quantify that effect. We use engineering–economic models to calculate the monthly revenue to energy storage devices providing frequency regulation and energy arbitrage in several electricity markets and compare that revenue to prevailing natural gas prices. We find that flywheel devices providing frequency regulation were profitable in months when natural gas prices were above $7/mcf, but face difficulties at current prices (around $4/mcf). For energy arbitrage alone, we find that the breakeven capital cost for large-scale storage was around $300/kWh in several key locations in 2004–2008, but is around $100/kWh in the same locations today. Though cost and performance improvements have been continually decreasing the effective cost of energy services from storage, fundamental market signals indicating the need for energy storage are at or near 10-year lows for both energy arbitrage and frequency regulation.
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