Good Intentions with Inimical Results – Part 2: The Obama Administration and the Energy Storage Hub

The Obama administration has strongly supported the development of America’s renewable energy, and this blog has added its endorsement of the R&D required for achieving major advances in this area.  This support is the reason for expressing concern that the new policy adopted by the administration for advancing energy storage may stifle critical advances in science and engineering.

The recently announced energy storage hub funding opportunity is intended as an enlargement of the administration’s support for the infrastructure required for expansion of  renewables and transportation.  The Energy Innovation Hub for Batteries and Energy Storage will be a project of $120 million over a five-year period.  Few areas of energy research are as important as research on batteries and energy storage.  This is no doubt the reason for the announcement by the Department of Energy of the Energy Innovation Hub for Batteries and Energy Storage with the following statement:

Improved storage is essential to effectively integrate intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power into the electrical grid; it will also be a critical component of more efficient “smart grid” systems for electricity delivery.

The announced approach of the hub is to create an intense, focused and localized research effort directed at energy storage, using the past models of the Bell Laboratories and World War II’s Manhattan Project.  Both produced astounding advances in science and its application.

What troubles me about the announcement is its potential impact on limiting battery-related research funding for the many scientists and engineers not involved in the hub.  As this blog has observed before, there is very widespread interest in batteries and energy storage by a large and varied number of engineers and scientists. To the degree that the work of this diverse group of scientists and engineers goes unfunded, then the newly announced hub may have the inadvertent effect of stifling some very important research by those not directly involved.

While we can hope that the models upon which this hub is being built are still viable today, it is entirely possible that more widespread and diverse support of research may be what is needed.  During World War II, the very best scientists were brought together in the Manhattan Project.  Today’s cadre of related and interested scholars associated with energy storage is much larger, more diverse, and more geographically dispersed than any single, localized project can accommodate, when compared with the days of the Manhattan Project.  I recognize that this decision for the formation of a hub has been made, but I hope that additional research dollars will be provided beyond those dedicated to the hub.  The risk of not doing so is that we may well miss out on the needed discoveries than can come from a continued level of competition among these scientists and engineers.



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