A New Battery Could Be As Revolutionary As Fracking, Recent EIA Chief Says

In Chicago last week, the former director of the Energy Information Administration reminisced about a glorious day, not long ago, when Democrats and Republicans got along—even when the topic was energy.
"We recently had a case where it was an actually-bipartisan agreement," said Adam Sieminski, who headed the EIA from 2012 until this January.
The fond day he recalled was Dec. 15, 2015, when Congressional Democrats agreed to support a bill allowing the export of crude oil, fulfilling a major Republican goal, and in return Republicans supported a five-year extension of wind and solar tax credits.
That deal will continue to fuel the growth of renewables, Sieminski said, predicting—as the agency did in its Annual Energy Outlook—that renewables will continue to grow faster in the United States than any other form of energy.
But not fast enough to displace fossil fuels, he added, unless something truly radical happens—a better battery.
"If somebody invents a battery that really works that’s going to be revolutionary," Sieminski told a room packed with students and faculty at the University of Chicago. "It could have the same impact that shale technology had on oil and gas production. So, we’ll look for that one."
He might not have to look far, because the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago recently narrowed the pool of promising battery candidates down to two—an organic flow battery for grid-level storage and a lithium-sulfur battery for cars and trucks. Lithium-ion batteries have already been marching onto the grid at improved efficiencies and lower costs, but Argonne is looking at improvements leaps beyond.
EIA has typically been pessimistic in its outlook for renewables, optimistic with fossil fuels, and has taken flak for it. While Sieminski did not address that criticism directly, he said the agency sometimes appears to overlook recent trends because it tends to rely on older data it considers more precise. And while the EIA is often criticized for its predictions, he said, that's not really the agency's purpose.
"How can you possibly have a forecast that's correct about 2050 or even 2040?" he asked the gathering, hosted by the Energy Policy Institute of Chicago. The real value in EIA forecasts are the scale of variations in different scenarios, he said. "The goal is to test how sensitive that endpoint is to changes in assumptions. The delta between scenarios is most interesting."
Sieminski now chairs the energy and geopolitics program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, although the Energy Dept. website continues to describe him as head of EIA.
Asked how much impact President Trump could have on energy development, Sieminski said some of Trump's actions could happen right away but others will have to go through an administrative process. As an example of an administrative process, Sieminski told the story of his effort, as a fledgling EIA director newly arrived from the private sector—he had been chief energy economist for Deutsche Bank—to get a water-bottle refilling station installed in the EIA offices.
"It took me three years to get a drinking fountain installed. President Trump is going to be beside himself," he said. "If he wants a drinking fountain in the Trump Tower, it's in the next day. That's what I thought I was going to do."

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