Sign In or Create an Account.

By continuing, you agree to the Terms of Service and acknowledge our Privacy Policy

Climate

Batteries Are the Least Popular Part of a Carbon-Free Grid

That’s according to a new Heatmap poll. So what gives?

Renewable energy.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Here’s a shocker: Americans aren’t exactly unified in their takes on the energy transition. In a new Heatmap poll conducted by Embold Research, about a third of the more than 2,000 adults surveyed agreed that “renewable energy offers many significant benefits, with few downsides,” while about half that number said renewables have “many significant downsides, with few benefits.” Go figure.

Dig beneath the surface, however, and some fascinating fault lines begin to emerge. Often, these divides cut across class, gender, and even party affiliation.

Take the public’s opinion on batteries, for instance. Of all the possible sources of zero-carbon power we asked people about, battery storage scored the lowest, with just 23% saying they strongly supported adding them to the energy mix in their state. By comparison, 51% said they strongly supported rooftop solar, and 36% said they strongly supported nuclear, typically a controversial energy source. Only coal and “methane gas” scored lower (although when we called it “natural gas,” it polled much higher).

What’s the problem with batteries? One possibility is that even though utility-scale battery storage system fires are rare — the Electric Power Research Institute database of battery-related “failure events” lists just 15 last year, though one was a multi-day fire in a storage system in Idaho — people may group them together with far more common lithium-ion battery fires with scooters and e-bikes.

“Lithium ion battery fires are rarities when considered in the context of widespread deployment,” Lakshmi Srinivasan and Stephanie Shaw, who both work on battery storage policy and research at EPRI, co-signed in an email. “There are also important differences between grid-scale storage and electric micro-mobility devices like bikes and scooters” — namely that grid-scale batters are subject to regulations and testing requirements that your e-bike’s battery is not, which reduces the risk of fires.

As with any major piece of energy infrastructure, the prospect of grid-scale batteries can also spark the public’s generic aversion to new construction and the sight of industrial equipment. California — which leads the country in battery storage procurement and deployment — has not been free from local backlash to utility-scale battery storage projects. A long-planned project in San Diego County has faced persistent opposition from nearby residents, even after it was scaled down by 20%, while a project north of San Francisco was rejected entirely due to concerns about safety.

Besides the fire and visual concerns, many people don’t understand that battery storage projects fall under the category of clean energy, especially in California where they're most prevalent. When asked to identify which types of power generation they considered “clean,” only 19% picked out battery storage, compared to 78% for solar — which is increasingly co-located with battery storage — 76% for wind, and even 37% for natural gas. The only forms of power that ranked below battery storage were, again, “methane gas” and coal.

While solar and wind — which battery systems can support — are well known to just about everyone, widespread deployment of battery storage is still fairly new. While Heatmap’s survey showed relatively high disapproval for battery storage, it also was the third most “not sure” energy source behind hydrogen and geothermal, two technologies that have yet to reach mass adoption in the U.S. “All new technologies are a bit of a black box until education is provided,” the two EPRI researchers said.

That education might also include how people might benefit. “Storage is a key driver of grid resilience and reliability,” Srinivasan and Shaw explained. That means fewer service interruptions for any reason, and particularly during severe weather, when back-up energy may be necessary to keep food cold and shelters warm. “All that said,” they added, “another important benefit of storage is that it supports extensive use of renewables technologies, so the most use can be made of those as well as making the electricity grid cleaner for everyone.”

It’s true that not all battery storage systems necessarily lead to lower carbon emissions. And yet batteries are absolutely essential to a decarbonized electric grid — and to keeping grids with high levels of weather-dependent resources like wind and solar stable. It's no coincidence that two states with large amounts of renewable power on the grid, California and Texas, are also leaders in battery storage deployment.

“While many members of the public prioritize implementing renewable energy, NIMBY concerns can be strong in some instances, often based on misinformation,” Srinivasan and Shaw told me. “Support for renewable technologies is often dependent on the tangible local benefits of the facility, rather than broader decarbonization impacts.”

The Heatmap poll of 2,094 American adults was conducted by Embold Research via online responses from April 5 to 11, 2024. The survey included interviews with Americans in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Blue
Matthew Zeitlin profile image

Matthew Zeitlin

Matthew is a correspondent at Heatmap. Previously he was an economics reporter at Grid, where he covered macroeconomics and energy, and a business reporter at BuzzFeed News, where he covered finance. He has written for The New York Times, the Guardian, Barron's, and New York Magazine.

Sparks

A Swiss Army Knife for Clean Energy

These can really do it all — almost.

A dam.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Before and for the first year or so after the Inflation Reduction Act, clean energy in the United States was largely developed under the aegis of two tax credits: the Production Tax Credit, which primarily useful for wind power, and the Investment Tax Credit, which is primarily used for solar power. (The actual eligibility for each tax credit for each technology has changed various times over the years, but that’s the gist.)

Starting in 2025, however, and lasting (absent any change in the law) through at least 2032, that tax credit regime will be made “technology neutral.” Goodbye, existing credits with their limited applicability. Hello, new tax credits that apply to “any clean energy facility that achieves net-zero greenhouse gas emissions,” according to a release issued Wednesday by the Treasury Department.

“For too long, the U.S. solar and wind markets have been hampered by uncertainty due to the on-again-off-again nature of key tax credits,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on a call with reporters. “Periods of indecision and the credits being repeatedly allowed to elect to lapse made it too difficult for companies to plan and invest in clean energy projects.”

Keep reading...Show less
Green
Bitcoin becoming the sun.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Categorizing Crusoe Energy is not easy. The startup is a Bitcoin miner and data center operator. It’s a “high-performance” and “carbon-negative” cloud platform provider. It’s a darling of the clean tech world that’s raised nearly $750 million in funding. The company has historically powered its operations with natural gas, but its overall business model actually reduces emissions. Confused yet?

Here are the basics. The company was founded in 2018 to address the problem of natural gas flaring. Natural gas is a byproduct of oil extraction, and if oil field operators have no economical use case for the gas or are unable to transfer it elsewhere, it’s often simply burned. If you, like me, have spent time sourcing stock images of air pollution, you’ve probably seen the pictures of giant flames coming out of tall smokestacks near oil pump jacks and other drilling infrastructure. That’s what flaring natural gas looks like, and it is indeed terrible for the environment. That’s largely because the process fails to fully combust methane, which is the primary component of natural gas and 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

Keep reading...Show less
Yellow
Climate

AM Briefing: Displacement Fears

On the Biden administration’s carbon removal investments, the climate refugees of Brazil, and more

Wednesday sunrise.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: More storms and possible tornadoes are forecast to hit Texas and the Plains, where millions of people are still without power • Cyclone Remal, the first tropical storm of the season, killed at least 23 people in India and Bangladesh • Brazilian authorities are investigating up to 800 suspected cases of waterborne illness following unprecedented flooding over the past month.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden administration invests in carbon removal

The Department of Energy on Tuesday gave $1.2 million to companies competing for a chance to sell carbon removal credits to the federal government. These 24 semifinalists, which were each awarded $50,000, include nine direct air capture projects, seven biomass projects, five enhanced rock weathering projects, and three marine-based projects. Up to 10 of them will be offered federal contracts amounting to $30 million. “The Department of Energy hopes that by selecting 24 companies that have been vetted by government scientists, it’s sending a signal to the private sector that there are at least some projects that are legitimate,” Heatmap’s Emily Pontecorvo writes, referencing struggles in the broader carbon credits marketplace.

Keep reading...Show less
Yellow