National Labs Guide Critical Artificial Intelligence, Energy Storage and Grid Research

The electric grid may be the greatest invention of all time, bringing energy to the masses and driving the global economy. Artificial intelligence and other technologies will take this to a new level by increasing reliability, reducing emissions and lowering costs.

Research and development in national laboratories is making room on the grid for more renewable and electric vehicles. The goal now is to ensure a smooth and reliable transition. Indeed, green energy has increased by 250,000 megawatts over the past decade, while electric vehicles are gaining market share. Reduced use of fossil fuels will lead to greater electricity consumption, requiring smarter grids and advanced energy storage methods.

Artificial intelligence, or artificial intelligence, “will drive unprecedented innovation,” says Steven Ashby, director of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. “An AI-powered network could make autonomous decisions on load and generation management in real time,” adding that AI could also help streamline the permitting process.

Last week, Ashby spoke at a virtual press event hosted by the United States Energy Association, where I was a panelist.

Electricity is the lifeblood of American commerce and accounts for 7% of the U.S. economy. However, the country’s transmission grid must expand and improve to withstand the massive influx of electric vehicles and wind and solar power plants. In 2022, commercial and industrial energy consumers announced nearly 17 gigawatts of clean energy contracts, a record. Amazon
Meta, Google
Verizon, Ford and General Motors
General Motors
led the charge, said the Clean Energy Buyers Association.

Government policy supports these goals. The country can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 from a 2005 baseline with help from the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides $369 billion for 21st century energy and climate projects.

The US Department of Energy says the grid will need to expand by 60% by 2030 and triple by 2050 to meet clean energy demand. Upgrading the grid or adding new digital components so that the wires can carry more electrons is also an option. “Reconduction” is a solution that involves installing new cables in an existing transmission.

Innovation is key

Consider the Tennessee Valley Authority: Reconductor could increase capacity on its lines “by two to four times.” This is huge, says Stephen Streiffer, director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. The numbers will only improve as technology and materials improve.

“We will need a robust transmission system in the United States,” adds Martin Keller, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “We need to continue to invest in research to develop this, but also to build transmission as quickly as possible.”

Innovation is paramount to improving gear and battery technology, which harnesses electrons from the wind and sun and releases them when needed. Lithium-ion batteries are the most popular battery storage device today. They use cobalt, which is difficult to extract and leads to thermal runaway or fires. However, this technology is characterized by greater density and allows the storage of more energy.

Competitive technologies appear on the horizon. One is “solid-state” batteries, which avoid lithium and use oxides, sulfides, phosphates and solid polymers. Flow batteries are another matter. They can be charged several times a day for decades. Short-term lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, wear out after 10 years.

“Battery costs have dropped by an order of magnitude, which is huge,” says Claus Daniel, deputy director of advanced energy at Argonne National Laboratory. Batteries contain various raw materials such as copper, cobalt, nickel, lithium and magnesium. Cobalt is “the only material” that Argonne is “concerned about,” he says, adding that most of the lab’s research focuses on “changing the energetic materials it contains.”

Additionally, there is an emphasis on recycling existing materials, diversifying supply chains and using materials more efficiently, adds Kimberly Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. For example, Tesla
claims that recycling is cheaper than buying these minerals and notes that it allows you to recover 92% of the materials from which the battery is made.

Better management of raw materials is necessary if the global community is to adhere to the Paris Agreement. This includes achieving 33,000 gigawatts of renewable energy and electrifying 90% of the transport sector by 2050 – all based on clean energy infrastructure.

The energy transformation is already at an advanced stage, largely facilitated by the work of national laboratories in cooperation with private enterprises. Technology will continue to leap forward. In fact, artificial intelligence, smart grids and battery technology have the potential to revolutionize the way electricity is generated and delivered, improving reliability. Pollution levels will fall and, as a result, electricity costs will fall, improving economic prospects around the world.