While the first decade of the 2000s saw huge growth in natural gas generation, and the 2010s were the decade of wind and solar, early signs suggest the innovation of the 2020s may be a boom in “hybrid” power plants.
A typical hybrid power plant combines electricity generation with battery storage at the same location. That often means a solar or wind farm paired with large-scale batteries. Working together, solar panels and battery storage can generate renewable power when solar energy is at its peak during the day and then release it as needed after the sun goes down.
A look at the power and storage projects in the development pipeline offers a glimpse of hybrid power’s future.
Our team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that a staggering 1,400 gigawatts of proposed generation and storage projects have applied to connect to the grid – more than all existing U.S. power plants combined. The largest group is now solar projects, and over a third of those projects involve hybrid solar plus battery storage.
While these power plants of the future offer many benefits, they also raise questions about how the electric grid should best be operated.
Why hybrids are hot
As wind and solar grow, they are starting to have big impacts on the grid.
Solar power already exceeds 25% of annual power generation in California and is spreading rapidly in other states such as Texas, Florida and Georgia. The “wind belt” states, from the Dakotas to Texas, have seen massive deployment of wind turbines, with Iowa now getting a majority of its power from the wind.
This high percentage of renewable power raises a question: How do we integrate renewable sources that produce large but varying amounts of power throughout the day?
That’s where storage comes in. Lithium-ion battery prices have rapidly fallen as production has scaled up for the electric vehicle market in recent years. While there are concerns about future supply chain challenges, battery design is also likely to evolve.
The combination of solar and batteries allows hybrid plant operators to provide power through the most valuable hours when demand is strongest, such as summer afternoons and evenings when air conditioners are running on high. Batteries also help smooth out production from wind and solar power, store excess power that would otherwise be curtailed, and reduce congestion on the grid.
Hybrids dominate the project pipeline
At the end of 2020, there were 73 solar and 16 wind hybrid projects operating in the U.S., amounting to 2.5 gigawatts of generation and 0.45 gigawatts of storage.
Today, solar and hybrids dominate the development pipeline. By the end of 2021, more than 675 gigawatts of proposed solarplants had applied for grid connection approval, with over a third of them paired with storage. Another 247 gigawatts of wind farms were in line, with 19 gigawatts, or about 8% of those, as hybrids.