On Tuesday of this week, President Obama nominated MIT physicist Ernest Moniz as Secretary of Energy to replace outgoing Secretary Steven Chu. Dr. Moniz has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1973 and currently directs MIT’s Energy Initiative, which works across the school’s disciplines to research and address energy issues. He served as associate director for science in the Office of Science and Technology Policy from 1995 to 1997 and spent the next four years as under-secretary of energy in the DOE.
By most accounts, Dr. Moniz is a strong supporter of President Obama’s “all of the above” approach to energy policy. He is on record as supporting nuclear power, hydraulic fracking and continued research on carbon sequestration. In interviews this week, however, he went out of his way to highlight his interest in energy efficiency. “The most important thing is lowering your use of energy in ways that actually save you money,” he told the Washington Post. “It sounds trivial, but putting out lights really does matter.” Dr. Moniz’s statement seems to echo the President’s call in his State of the Union address to double energy efficiency by 2030.
If energy efficiency is going to be a top priority of the Administration over the next four years, electricity storage technology should be able to benefit—provided that storage advocates educate policy makers about what it really means to be energy efficient.
Of course, energy efficiency, in the context of the grid, does not really mean using less electricity. Dr. Moniz’s statement about putting out the lights is an oversimplification. Because of the extra emissions generated by cycling thermal plants and additional infrastructure needed to service peak loads, simply reducing electricity usage at non-peak times will do little to enhance true energy efficiency. Efficiency is not really just about putting out lights.
One of the most effective ways to achieve true energy efficiency on the grid is to reduce the difference between peak and non-peak loads on the system. By doing so, a grid operator can reduce emissions and infrastructure while at the same time actually increasing the amount of electricity available to do useful work for consumers and industry.
Electricity storage will be a key component of any initiative to increase the true energy efficiency of the grid. But to take advantage of a new DOE push for energy efficiency, storage advocates must get the message out: Energy efficiency is not about using less energy; it is about using the energy we have more efficiently. And that is precisely what electricity storage does. If we can get that message out, the next few years should be very good for electricity storage.