Energy Storage Shines in Storms, but Real Payoff comes Every Day

September 18, 2017

It’s called resilience. And it’s just one of the benefits of a distributed, renewable grid with storage. Coming to a state near you, sooner than you think.


n a paved expanse next to an electrical substation in Escondido, 30 miles north of downtown San Diego, sits a row of huge silver boxes. The site resembles a barracks, but instead of soldiers, the 24 containers house racks of battery packs.

This is the largest lithium-ion battery in the world, according to its developers. When the local grid needs more power, these batteries deliver, almost instantaneously. They can discharge up to 30 megawatts – roughly equivalent to powering 20,000 homes – and can sustain that level for up to four hours.

AES Energy Storage built the system in less than six months for utility San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) in response to a four-month blowout at southern California’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. The rupture in October 2015 leaked more gas into the atmosphere than any other spill in US history.

After the leak was finally plugged in February 2016, utilities needed a fast-response energy source to deploy quickly in the densely populated areas around Los Angeles and San Diego. They wanted to prevent blackouts during periods of high demand, especially when customers crank up the air-conditioning on hot summer days.

Traditional grid solutions didn’t make sense. Gas peaker plants – which can be turned on quickly to meet demand – can take years to gain permission and be built, and they burn fossil fuels. You can’t drop a hydroelectric dam in the middle of a city. Solar power doesn’t help much in the evening, when summer demand is highest.

Instead, utilities Southern California Edison and SDG&E chose something relatively new: grid-scale batteries. What followed was the Escondido battery plus several others totalling about 100MW. The project became a major test case for the grid storage industry’s ability to make the grid more efficient and clean.

“To go from something that we thought of as kind of the future technology to, all of a sudden, it coming to the rescue so quickly – yeah, I think that’s a huge success story,” said John Zahurancik, president of AES Energy Storage.

A battery can absorb whatever power is available, whether it’s from coal, solar or nuclear. The ability to store and discharge power, though, has particular value for regions pursuing high levels of renewable energy.

“As more of our electricity starts to come from wind and solar, grid storage can collect extra electricity when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, and then give it back during still nights when we need it to power homes and businesses,” says Sonia Aggarwal, vice president of San Francisco-based consultancy Energy Innovation.

California already gets about 8% of its power from solar and 9% from wind. This month, the legislature is voting on a 100% renewable target; if passed, the opportunity for storage to move that power around will grow.
Grid batteries offer a tantalising longer term application, displacing the gas plants needed to quickly meet peak electricity demand.

Batteries like those in Escondido deliver power instantaneously, but unlike a gas plant they emit no greenhouse gases or air pollution on-site. That makes them easy to slip into populated urban areas, where electricity users are clustered.

That ease of gaining permission and of construction made it possible for California to deal with the Aliso Canyon shortfall in months rather than the years needed for traditional gas plant construction.

“This is unprecedented speed for power infrastructure – it’s unheard of,” Aggarwal said. “If future projects can match this timeline – or even beat it – as grid storage prices continue to plummet, owners of old power plants should be shaking in their boots.”

Inside Climate News:

Just after midnight on Sept. 11, Eugenio Pereira awoke to the sound of tropical-storm-force winds slamming his Gainesville, Florida, home. Hurricane Irma had arrived. At 1:45 a.m., the power flickered out, and he was in total darkness.

Unlike large swaths of Florida that were facing days if not weeks without electricity, Pereira knew he would have power when the sun rose. He had installed rooftop solar panels two weeks before the storm, along with an inverter that allows him to use power from the solar panels without being connected to the grid. The next morning, he plugged an extension cord into the inverter, flipped it on, and let his 7-kilowatt rooftop solar array do the rest. He was able to use his appliances and his Wi-Fi, so he could continue his work as a home-based IT consultant while the neighborhood waited for grid power to came back on.

“We didn’t have sun at all the day after the hurricane, but even with clouds, it was enough,” he said.

Hurricane Irma cut the power to about 6.7 million customers across Florida, as well as hundreds of thousands in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. Only about two-thirds of those in Florida had power back by Thursday, and Florida Power & Light said the outages could last weeks in some areas.

It’s a scene that plays out every time a major hurricane hits. But this time, homeowners like Pereira, some businesses, and even cities were able to take advantage of the Sunshine State’s solar power while the grid was down.



Very quietly, (Berkshire Hathaway’s) BH Energy has become one of the biggest buyers of wind and solar power, and it’s in balancing these power sources, with others, across a national grid that is one of America’s chief challenges today. With Oncor, BH Energy has the scale to tackle it, and profit handsomely as more cars come to depend on the grid.

The problems with the U.S. electrical grid mostly lie in load balancing. Texas wind and California solar power have at times been priced negatively when they were abundant. When those sources are not available, natural gas and even coal may be needed to maintain baseload.

(Warren Buffet heir apparent Greg) Abel now has enough customers to take power when it’s abundant, and enough back-up fossil fuel capacity to handle his needs when renewables are not abundant. He also has the budget necessary to add storage capacity to his grid, creating mini-grids that are more resilient than the present grid. All this can also be done quietly, out of view of regulators, meaning efficiently, and profitably.



6 Responses to “Energy Storage Shines in Storms, but Real Payoff comes Every Day”

  1. schwadevivre Says:

    Peter, the WordPress log on via twitter appears bugged

    • greenman3610 Says:

      I’m kind of a dummy when it comes to WordPress issues. Do you mean “buggy” or “bugged” like a phone tap?

  2. Vehicle to Grid is a great concept and an early selling point for EVs. However current EV warranties preclude using EVs as an energy source. It appear that government policy is needed to change this if the EV manufacturers are not going to take the lead on this issue.

  3. Gingerbaker Says:

    Sigh. Starting to feel schizophrenic about storage.

    Either it is the greatest thing since sliced bread (people who love the concept of “distributed” energy feel this way),


    it’s not really needed until RE hits 80% penetration of electrical sector. People who love the concept of HVDC power lines, smart grids, and large energy farms feel this way.

    One need to get our act together.

    • webej Says:

      It’s hard ot know how this will go, since distributed storage obviates the need for a grid and might be much cheaper for rural applications and other places that rolling out the grid is expensive. On the other hand, scale and intermittency seem to argue for some form of distribution from where there is more or less sun and wind and demand. How the economics of this might play out is hard to say. Electricity use will take an enormous jump if we start adding transportation and manufacturing to current use, making adaptation necessary. It’s impossible to say since the technologies may make several jumps yet.

  4. wpNSAlito Says:

    I read the “Inside Climate News” article about rooftop solar in Florida, but they didn’t mention anything about panel mounting issues in gale force+ winds. Do professional installers warranty their mounts for spoiler/sail behavior?

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