The Opportunities and Limitations of Seasonal Energy Storage

Lithium-ion batteries have become far more affordable and are now an increasingly viable method of providing hourly and daily load balancing in heavily decarbonized electricity markets. But they won't come close to meeting the need for seasonal storage solutions.

This research was made possible through a generous gift from Carl Goldsmith (W’88).

Executive Summary

Wind and solar power will form the bedrock of a future clean energy system. They are cheap, easy to maintain, widely deployable, and long-lasting. They do, however, have one significant and ultimately unavoidable fault: intermittency.

Over the course of hours and days, this intermittency can be somewhat compensated for using demand response, variable-rate electricity pricing, and short duration storage. Lithium-ion batteries, though still fairly expensive, have become an increasingly economical solution to load balancing challenges. However, wind and solar capacity factors also vary over the course of seasons and years.

Meanwhile, seasonal energy demands such as home heating will need to be decarbonized—likely via electrification. Lithium-ion batteries become significantly less viable solutions for load balancing over these longer timescales because of their inherent technological limitations and because of insufficient market compensation for “stand-by” services.

Balancing a decarbonized grid over seasonal and annual timescales will require several changes in policy and investment priorities including revisions to storage markets, increased transmission investment, and development of alternative storage solutions.

Oscar Serpell

Research Associate
Oscar Serpell is a researcher, writer, and data analyst at the Kleinman Center. He participates in several key research projects at the center and also writes blog posts and policy digests on timely energy policy topics.