BOSTON (SHNS) – Energy storage technology is the key to an electrical grid that swaps fossil fuels out for renewables like wind and solar without sacrificing reliability and government should throw its weight into supporting storage technology innovation at a greater pace and scale to ease the transition to a carbon-free economy, a new study from the MIT Energy Initiative said.

Decarbonization relies upon cleaner sources of energy like wind (onshore and offshore) and solar to power the shift away from things like gas-powered cars and oil heating towards electric vehicles and electric heating. But wind and solar are variable renewable energy (VRE) resources — they rely on the wind and sun, and can’t always be deployed to respond to changes in electricity demand on the grid.

That’s where energy storage comes in. During sunny and/or windy days, power that is generated but not used could be stored to keep the lights on when the sun isn’t shining and the wind is still.

“Our study finds that energy storage can help VRE-dominated electricity systems balance electricity supply and demand while maintaining reliability in a cost-effective manner — that in turn can support the electrification of many end-use activities beyond the electricity sector,” MITEI Director Robert Armstrong, chair of the Future of Energy Storage study, said.

The study looked at four categories of storage technology: electrochemical, thermal, chemical, and mechanical. Some solutions, like lithium-ion batteries, pumped storage hydro and thermal storage, have already been proven and are available for commercial deployment. But the MIT report also recommended that the government focus research and development efforts on other storage technologies like “alternative electrochemical storage technologies that rely on earth-abundant materials” that could become available by 2050.

“Government has an important role to play in encouraging technology innovation and speeding the adoption of energy storage. Encourage your elected officials to fund research into new types of lower-cost long-duration storage, such as battery types beyond lithium ion, and thermal and chemical storage,” MITEI said in a video released alongside the report, which focused on U.S. national policy.

At the state level, Gov. Charlie Baker has been pushing for lawmakers who are likely to soon begin negotiating a compromise energy and climate bill to put significant money towards an energy innovation fund that could do for the industry what Massachusetts has done for the life sciences industry. Baker has proposed using $750 million in American Rescue Plan Act money to create an investment fund at the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center to advance clean energy research and technologies.

“I want Massachusetts, we should all want Massachusetts, to be the player in energy innovation, whether it’s around wind, storage, hydrogen, and other developments associated with the electrification of so many parts of our economy,” Baker said earlier this month. “There will be other states that will put big money up alongside whatever their industry partners are doing to access the billions of dollars in federal funds that will be made available over the course of the next five years to invest in the next act of technology solutions to many of these challenges we face. I really think Massachusetts should be one of those.”

Neither the House nor the Senate has proposed any similar level of funding as Baker.

The Senate’s bill includes about $250 million in money from the state’s General Fund for clean energy research and technology, workforce enhancement and training, electric vehicle rebates and incentives, and for the development of an electric vehicle charging infrastructure deployment plan. It also directs a study of how to optimize the deployment of long-term energy storage systems.

The House’s offshore wind-focused bill would raise $35 million annually through a new charge on gas customers and direct an existing charge on electric customers to a new Offshore Wind Industry Trust Fund to provide tax credits for investments and job creation by wind companies.

The House bill, which passed in March, contemplates energy storage as part of the state’s strategy to meet its net-zero by 2050 requirement. The bill would require the Department of Energy Resources and MassCEC to study the deployment and utilization of long-duration and multi-day energy storage systems.

“If that study shows benefits to the commonwealth, it requires DOER to issue procurements for long-duration storage,” Rep. Jeff Roy, the House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee said when he introduced the bill on the House floor. “It would also require energy storage benchmarks to be incorporated into the 2025-2050 roadmap plans that our roadmap legislation established last year.”