Quinn Milligan, MJLST Staffer
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (the IRA) is one of the most significant steps the U.S. government has ever taken towards fighting climate change. Over a decade, the IRA dedicates nearly $400 billion to clean energy tax incentives with the aim of reducing carbon emissions and aiding the U.S. energy economy in speeding up its transition away from fossil fuel based energy generation. One of the most interesting features of the IRA’s emphasis on clean energy is the energy storage industry. The IRA extends the coverage of the 30% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) to standalone energy storage projects, and creates a system by which standalone battery projects can earn up to 70% in tax credits, with additional incentives linked to involvement in low-income housing and other projects.
Why is that such a big deal? At a high level, one of the main obstacles to reliance on renewable energy sources, other than nuclear power, is the variability of their supply generation. Variability is easy to understand at a cursory level: You can’t rely on solar power when it’s not sunny out or wind energy when there’s no wind. So, variability of energy production from renewable sources has long been an obstacle to the increased dispatch of renewable sources. Increased transmission capacity and energy storage capacity provide a solution to the variability in generation of renewable energy sources.
The manner in which the Federal Energy Regulatory Committee (FERC) regulates the Independent System Operators (ISOs) and Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs) accentuates the impact of generation variability on the ability of renewable resources to be widely utilized. These ISOs and RTOs operate independently of the federal government to ensure that U.S. citizens have reliable access to affordable energy. In essence, for huge swaths of the country, ISOs and RTOs oversee the markets wherein energy is purchased from generators and resold to retail suppliers, which provide energy to end consumers. The ISOs and RTOs both forecast and plan for the energy needs of their areas of oversight, and then coordinate the purchase and sale of those contracts to fulfill the energy needs. These purchases happen at multiple different time scales, ranging from forward contracts, to day-ahead markets, and even minutes before requirement. Because planning and forecasting make up such an important part of how energy is purchased, the variability of generation from renewables has historically made it very hard for ISOs and RTOs to rely on renewably sourced energy to fulfill any sort of energy need other than minutes-ahead contracts. However, that is the very problem many of the incentives in the IRA may help to solve.
The huge tax incentives given out to standalone energy storage projects are critical policy achievements that will go very far in aiding the U.S. to accomplish its lofty goal of reducing carbon emissions up to 40% below 2005 levels by 2035, as the Biden Administration claims will be accomplished with help of the IRA. One huge change the IRA made to climate policies enacted under the Obama Administration was to remove the solar charging of battery storage in order to receive tax credits. Under the IRA, as opposed to prior legislation, investment in projects to create better storage will receive the IRA’s ITC regardless of what source of energy is used to fill that battery capacity. This ITC for energy storage capacity pairs hand-in-hand with the tax credits extended under the IRA to renewables; for example, the IRA extends the current tax breaks for solar and wind generation for another 10 years.
The emphasis on energy storage capacity increases means ISOs, RTOs and other energy utilities will have less need to rely on fossil fuel energy sources to power their grids, as cleanly produced energy can be stored and dispatched on a longer-term basis to store power and make up for variability in generation. The other important aspect of increases in electricity storage capacity is that ISOs and RTOs can more comfortably rely on renewable energy sources to respond to fluctuations in peak demand periods than ever before. Responding to changes in demand during peak demand hours has long been one of the main challenges for utilities, and one of the reasons our grid has continued to rely on fossil-fuel-based energy for so long. Its generation is reliable, cheap, established and abundant. The increase in energy storage capacity resulting from the IRA’s incentive structure will help ISOs and RTOs transition more fully toward reliance on renewable energy in short-term markets, as well as the long-term capacity markets, by minimizing reliability concerns previously raised by generation variability.
The real genius of the IRA’s focus on the energy storage capacity from a policy standpoint is that all battery projects put into service after December 31, 2022, receive the ITC, even if they are powered by fossil fuels. Unlike many climate change policies before it, this approach means the entire U.S. energy grid, and not just the renewables sector, will be incentivized to address a critical constraint on the deployment of renewably generated electricity and subsequently ease the transition of the grid away from fossil-fuel-generated electricity.
As time goes forward, the price of renewable energy continues to go down as compared to fossil-fuel-generated energy; in fact, renewable energy today is generally cheaper than fossil fuel energy. That begs the question of why most of our electricity is sourced from fossil fuels when FERC directs the ISOs and RTOs to power the grid affordably. The reliability of renewable energy generation has long been one of the obstacles standing in the way of a transition to renewable energy generation, and the IRA’s electricity storage incentives go far in setting up the U.S. to successfully build the storage capacity needed to finally make a transition away from carbon reliance.
https://www.mossadams.com/articles/2022/08/inflation-reduction-act-clean-energy-credits “Standalone battery storage. “If placed in service after December 31, 2022, standalone battery storage qualifies for the ITC, regardless of whether it’s charged by a renewable source.”