Energy Storage. Anyone not living under a proverbial rock will recognize this term as one that’s been buzzing around the energy industry lexicon for a number of years. With a global push for clean energy, Energy storage offers the missing link in making 100% clean energy a reality. While Energy Storage has enjoyed a Holy Grail status, experts have recently asked just how necessary it is for a clean energy future. The answer is this: energy storage’s value to clean energy depends on your definition of “clean.”

To understand the need for energy storage, one must comprehend the difference between baseload and intermittent energy generation. Baseload generators are generators that are available on demand. Since fossil fuel generators will run as long as you feed the fire, they are counted on as baseload. Wind and solar, the most widely available renewable sources, are intermittent because as neither sunlight nor wind are constant. Due to intermittency issues, renewable penetration is limited as their needs to be a certain base of energy that is considered constant. Energy storage offers a solution; clean energy produced by renewables can be stored and used later in an on-demand, baseload fashion.

The wrinkle to all of this is nuclear energy—where does it stand? Nuclear energy provides baseload generation without producing greenhouse gasses. In that regard, it could be considered a clean baseload source. If you are comfortable lumping Nuclear in as a “clean” source, then energy storage is not required for a clean energy grid. However, by the same argument, renewables are not required either. A 100% “clean” grid could be a 100% nuclear grid. Of course, there are those who are less than enthusiastic about that solution.

Environmental groups and public opinion stand pretty united on the idea that, while nuclear is greenhouse gas free, other environmental risks outweigh the rewards. Regardless of whether you agree with this logic, nuclear is not often the linchpin in plans to clean the grid. The US’s Clean Power Plan recognizes that nuclear is probably better than fossil fuel but stops short of calling for an increase in nukes. Instead the CPP focuses on replacing fossil fuel with renewables like wind and solar.

In continuing on our current path towards a cleaner grid, energy storage is absolutely necessary for renewables to begin replacing baseload fossil fuel generation in a meaningful way. Its value as the missing link in driving renewable penetration is beginning to be recognised by lawmakers; this week, a bill was introduced to the US senate that would create a tax credit (akin to the solar ITC) for energy storage.

Depending on your definition of “clean”, energy storage may or may not be necessary for a clean grid. However, the world sure seems to be defining a “clean grid” as one where fossil fuels are replaced by renewables. To get there, energy storage will be key. The market is already embracing energy storage and the field is rapidly growing. Any company invested in renewable would be wise to recognize that energy storage bolsters its viability. Entering a new field with a new technology always comes with unknowns, and good development and project management practices are necessary for success. Digital solutions like Mercatus can help provide tools for financial planning, accurate reporting and allows for live project data. Having these gives you more speed, compliance and insight and efficiency so that you can be sure your project will ultimately be successful.