Meet the luminary speaker for our Innovative and Emerging Technologies Knowledge Hub at DISTRUBUTECH.

If the energy industry was a solar system, energy storage might very well be the sun. At least, that’s the perspective of Kelly Speakes-Backman, CEO of the Energy Storage Association (ESA) and featured luminary speaker at DISTRIBUTECH International next month in San Antonio, Texas.

Speakes-Backman recently talked with POWERGRID about her work at the ESA and where she sees the future of energy storage.

Storage brings flexibility to inflexible assets like coal-fired power plants and firms up variable assets like wind and solar power. It can reduce peak system demands for one building or for an entire municipality. Placed along transmission lines, it could reduce congestion for an ISO.

Kelly Speakes-Backman

“It is not generation, it is not a distribution asset, it is not a transmission asset, but it can act as all three,” said Speakes-Backman.

A mechanical engineer by training, Speakes-Backman worked in many different facets of the energy industry – from solar, to natural gas, to landfill-gas-to-energy, to fuel cells — before she accepted the role she has now.

“I have been around that whole sphere of clean energy ecosystem,” she said.

She said that after 25 years of working in the private sector, she moved into the public sector to try to understand how policy impacts business and profitability. And that’s when she woke up to energy storage.

“After having that background for 25 years, it was really clear that this newly emerging technology of energy storage is really at the center of all of it,” she said.

Speakes-Backman took the reins of the Energy Storage Association in 2017 when there were just 3 full-time employees. Today the group has eight employees and expects to add two more in the near future.

Accelerating markets

The ESA has three main objectives, said Speakes-Backman. It accelerates markets by working through the regulatory process in specific states. She said the organization also works on policies on the legislative side “to bridge that time that it takes to make regulatory reform because everybody knows that’s not all that fast,” she said.

ESA also connects its own members with each other. Speakes-Backman said there are approximately 190 members of the group today and they consist of manufacturers and system integrators, implementors such as independent power producers and developers, utilities (investor-owned and municipal co-ops) and grid operators. In addition, there are members in the services that supply the storage industry, such as law firms and financial organizations.

“That’s what makes it so interesting,” said Speakes-Backman. “We have competitors and collaborators in the same room at the same time all trying to figure out how to get storage to be more ubiquitous.”

As an example, she said the group created an internal working group to address the question of ‘who should own energy storage’ and then together they hashed out a solution.

“It was a great compromise between third-party suppliers, utilities, manufacturers all of those who have a stake in that game,” she said. ESA published the results and now uses that document as a playbook to help guide them when they go into states or work with lawmakers and regulators on policy.  

ESA’s the third major objective is to educate lawmakers and regulators about energy storage. Speakes-Backman said the group works almost as an advance team, entering states ahead of the market so that when a utility is ready to put forth a proposal that includes energy storage, regulators already have a good understanding about the technology.

The incredible growth of energy storage

From 2017-2018, the installed capacity of energy storage doubled and in 2019 it grew by about 50 percent. Speakes-Backman said in 2020, the industry is expected to triple.

“Our job as advocates for energy storage is to get ahead of that curve and push it open for more markets to happen because we need to get to 35 GW by 2025,” she said, adding “that’s a goal that we think is reasonable and it’s a goal that will really enable more clean energy on the grid.”

Advocacy work happens in states that don’t normally come to mind as energy storage trailblazers. That’s because those trailblazing states, like California and Hawaii, already understand the value of the technology, said Speakes-Backman. Instead, the ESA goes into states “where we think we can make a difference in the next 1 or 2 years to advance policy.”

Promising state regulations should be passed soon in New Jersey in response to a study, according to Speakes-Backman. She said that Minnesota is another state to watch as it has passed some really good legislation as well. Indeed, according to Speakes-Backman, 32 states have procurement requirements for energy storage in place and 21 states have passed legislation or regulations relating to storage.

Putting storage in your utility’s future

One exciting new launch for the ESA is a one-and-a-half-day training for utilities on how to include energy storage in long-term planning. After all, if you are planning to add storage to your network, you want to make sure that you are getting the most out of the multiple values it provides, said Speakes-Backman.

“So you have your generation folks that are doing long-term planning and your distribution folks that are doing long-term planning,” she said, “So between all of those how do you make sure you are getting as much value out of a single asset as you can?”

The training concludes with a simulated proceeding before a mock public utilities board so that utilities can test out selling their new plan.

It’s a pretty sure bet that all utilities will be increasing the amount of energy storage in their networks in the near future. If you’d like to learn more about the future of this exciting technology, be sure the come and listen to Kelly Speakes-Backman at DISTRIBUTECH International. She’ll be speaking in the Innovative and Emerging Knowledge Hub at 2PM on Wednesday, January 29.