New Battery Plant Will Bring 750 New Full-Time Jobs To Weirton, West Virginia.
Various renewable energy technologies saw year-over-year job growth in 2021. These included solar (5.4% job growth), wind (2.9%), hydropower (2.9%), and geothermal (2.8%), according to a report on the Energy.gov website.
In total, those industries added about 22,000 U.S. jobs in 2021 after seeing declines in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, electric power generation jobs tied to fossil fuels declined or grew slower than renewable energy jobs.
Building large-scale renewable energy projects is among the ways the U.S. can futureproof the American economy, compete to lead internationally and create new jobs.
One particularly promising project was unveiled in early January when energy-storage startup Form Energy announced plans to invest up to $760 million to build a facility in West Virginia that will manufacture multi-day iron-air batteries, Energy Storage News reported.
Form Energy, headquartered in Somerville, Massachusetts, will partner with the state of West Virginia to build its first manufacturing facility on a 55-acre site in the city of Weirton, a former steel town located by the Ohio River. Weirton lost its steel industry many years ago and jobs tied to the industry.
The Form Energy project will provide a needed economic boost in the form of 750 new full-time jobs and a financial incentive package worth up to $290 million, according to Energy Storage News.
“The funds put toward this project are guaranteed, secured, and collateralized through ownership of all land and buildings by the state,” West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in a press release. “The West Virginia Economic Development Authority allocated $75 million toward the purchase of land and the construction of buildings in Weirton. I plan on working with the West Virginia Legislature and our federal partners to obtain an additional $215 million needed to finalize our agreement.” U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito applauded the Governor and shared enthusiasm for West Virginia’s leadership. “If West Virginia is going to continue to be an energy state, we must embrace new technologies, but also tell our story on a national and global level,” Sen. Capito said.
Form Energy is developing a multi-day energy storage technology designed to enable the grid to run on low-cost renewables year-round. The company’s first commercial product is an iron-air battery “capable of storing electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants,” the press release said. This technology can keep costs down because iron is one of the most abundant minerals in the world.
Another product, called Formware, is a next-generation investment and operational model for power grids that can optimize multi-year, hourly resolution data sets to capture “real-world weather variability,” Form Energy said on its website. The aim is to provide more reliable and cost-effective designs for power systems driven by renewable energy, which is greatly impacted by weather patterns.
As Canary Media noted in a December 2022 article, iron-air batteries represent a cutting-edge technology that has not yet been installed in a full-scale power plant. Figuring out how to store renewable energy over the long term is one of the reasons Form Energy CEO and co-founder Mateo Jaramillo left his previous job with Tesla’s energy-storage business.
“To reach renewable energy independence, to meet supply-chain challenges, to run the grid reliably and affordably, we need new, domestically manufactured energy-storage technologies capable of cost-effectively storing electricity for multiple days,” Jaramillo said at an event in West Virginia announcing the new facility.
That announcement followed a Series E funding round in October in which Form Energy raised $450 million, bringing its total investments to $800 million, Energy Storage News reported. The round was led by TPG Rise Climate and included participation from ArcelorMittal and other investors.
Form Energy’s first pilot project, announced in 2020, deployed a 1-megawatt battery system with up to 150 hours duration to Minnesota utility Great River Energy, according to Energy Storage News. The goal of that project is to lower the utility’s dependence on coal. Form Energy also has held talks with Georgia Power on another pilot project.