Battery Costs Shocking the System

July 3, 2019


The cost of lithium-ion batteries has plunged 85 percent in a decade, and 30 percent in just the past year, so utilities across the U.S. have started attaching containers full of them to the grid — and they’re planning to install far more of them in the coming years. Electricity has always been the toughest commodity to manage, because unlike water, grain, fuel or steel, it has been largely impossible to store for later use. But that is changing fast, and even though the dramatic growth of batteries on the grid will be invisible to most Americans, it has the potential to transform how we produce and consume power, creating more flexible and resilient electricity systems with less waste, lower costs and fewer emissions.

“This will be like the change from analog to digital, or landlines to cell phones,” says Advanced Microgrid Systems CEO Susan Kennedy, whose firm’s software helps utilities optimize their power choices every instant of every day. “The energy industry will never be the same.”

Electricity storage will reshape the grid in many ways, but the most important is its potential to accelerate the already explosive growth of renewable energy — and that will have political implications. Of the 21 states with the highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita, Trump won 20 of them, and the lone exception, New Mexico, just passed a law committing to 100 percent clean power by 2045. By contrast, Hillary Clinton won the eight states with the lowest emissions per capita. But that carbon divide is not necessarily permanent. Eighty percent of the wind power installed during Trump’s presidency has been built in states he won, and the five most wind-dependent states were all Trump states. And while the storage boom started in blue states like California and Hawaii, it is taking off in Texas, Florida, and the rest of Red America as well. Polls suggest “clean energy” is now popular throughout the country, even though “climate action” is not, and there are now more than 3 million clean energy jobs in America, versus only 50,000 coal-mining jobs. The president’s fossil-fueled rhetoric no longer reflects the reality on the ground. And the politics of energy might become less partisan in a world in which renewable power becomes much more common.


Los Angeles Power and Water officials have struck a deal on the largest and cheapest solar + battery-storage project in the world, at prices that leave fossil fuels in the dust and may relegate nuclear power to the dustbin.

Later this month the LA Board of Water and Power Commissioners is expected to approve a 25-year contract that will serve 7 percent of the city’s electricity demand at 1.997¢/kwh for solar energy and 1.3¢ for power from batteries.

“This is the lowest solar-photovoltaic price in the United States,” said James Barner, the agency’s manager for strategic initiatives, “and it is the largest and lowest-cost solar and high-capacity battery-storage project in the U.S. and we believe in the world today. So this is, I believe, truly revolutionary in the industry.”

It’s half the estimated cost of power from a new natural gas plant.

Mark Z. Jacobson, the Stanford professor who developed roadmapsfor transitioning 139 countries to 100 percent renewables, hailed the development on Twitter Friday, saying, “Goodnight #naturalgas, goodnight #coal, goodnight #nuclear.”

The anti-nuclear activist Arnie Gunderson, who predicted storage prices under 2¢/kwh four years ago on the night Elon Musk unveiled the Tesla Powerpack, noted Saturday that his 2015 prediction was too high. He too said, “Goodbye coal, nukes, gas!”

The Eland Project will not rid Los Angeles of natural gas, however. The city will still depend on gas and hydro to supply its overnight power. But the batteries in this 400-megawatt project will take a bite out of the fossil share of LA’s power pie. 

“It reduces the evening ramp (of natural gas) as the sun sets,” Barner told commissioners at their June 18 meeting. “As the sun goes down for our other 1,000 MW of solar that doesn’t have batteries, the gas-fired generation and hydro have to compensate for that. So that net peak load in the evening will be offset with this facility. We’ll be able to contribute to that and keep gas powered generation not running at the full amount.”

Crudely, Los Angeles can count on solar power generation from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., said Louis Ting, director of power planning development at the agency. The batteries in this project effectively extend that horizon four hours, to 11 p.m.

“The battery can be dispatched differently,” Barner added, “depending on the system need. So you could run that four-hour battery over 16 hours at one-fourth of the output, so you can vary it over time. It’s not just fixed over four hours.”

The plant will be developed by 8minute Solar Energy on 2,653 acres of privately-owned land in the Barren Ridge renewable corridor in Kern County. The development was first reported Friday by John Weaver at pv magazine, who noted in comments that the price for battery storage is not added on top of the solar price. It’s a separate power product, sold at 1.3¢.

Barner explained that the plant will be able to generate more solar energy each day than the available transmission capacity. The extra power will be stored.

“The solar is inherently variable, and the battery is able to take a portion of that solar from that facility, the portion that’s variable, which is usually the top tend of it, take all of that, strip that off and then store it into the battery, so the facility can provide a constant output to the grid. It can turn this solar facility, which is not typically dispatchable, into a dispatchable type of facility.”

The plant is expected to deliver its first megawatt by April 2023, a timeline that qualifies it for the federal solar investment tax credit. 

“This project is able to make full use of that investment tax credit, which is substantial,” Barner said. “It’s 30 percent that is basically knocked off the capital cost of the project.”

A natural-gas plant opening that same year would produce power at more than twice the price, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, or 4¢-4.3¢/kwh. The agency did not bother modeling the estimated cost of coal or nuclear plants in its 2019 Energy Outlook because, it says, none are expected to be built. Nuclear often benefits from optimistic estimates in the range of 12¢/kwh. Nuclear’s advantage has been its constancy and reliability, an advantage cheap storage increasingly challenges.

The lowest known solar price is 1.97¢ for a project in Mexico that did not include storage.


31 Responses to “Battery Costs Shocking the System”

  1. rsmurf Says:

    Add in a water cracker and store excess solar and wind in hydrogen form, and we get even closer to FF free power!

  2. Canman Says:

    Mark Mills has a new piece on the other side of all this battery happy talk:


    33. No digital-like 10x gains exist for batteries: maximum theoretical energy in a pound of oil is 1,500% greater than max theoretical energy in the best pound of battery chemicals.

    34. About 60 pounds of batteries are needed to store the energy equivalent of one pound of hydrocarbons.

    35. At least 100 pounds of materials are mined, moved and processed for every pound of battery fabricated.

    36. Storing the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil, which weighs 300 pounds, requires 20,000 pounds of Tesla batteries ($200,000 worth).

    This doesn’t mean batteries and electric cars aren’t useful, but there are physical limits. Of course something better might come along, say, carbon nano-tube flywheels.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Grid storage and vehicle batteries have very different requirements. There’s no need to have “champagne” power-dense Li+ batteries for the grid: Pour a slab and ignore the weight requirements and don’t be uptight about the storage efficiency that a vehicle requires.

      Comparing the energy in a barrel of oil to the reusable storage capacity of a battery (whether electronic or kinetic) is a bizarre way to look at things. Fossil fuels need continuous extraction, processing and transport, while batteries are reusable storage. (And did calculation include the cost of moving all of those molecules and the heat waste from combustion engines?)

      I think it’s important to clamp down on goofy analogies and fantastical predictions about battery technology, while at the same time acknowledging the total cost of modern combustion engines.

    • Andy Lee Robinson Says:

      A battery can store a barrel of oil more than 5,000 times, and then be recycled and remade to store it another 5,000 times or more.
      Battery materials are only mined once.
      Oil when burned is gone practically forever and makes our planet just a little bit more uninhabitable.
      Grid storage does not require energy or power density.
      You could build a mountain of batteries and build apartments, add solar panels, add wind turbines or plant crops on top of them if land was a problem.
      The fate of fossil fuels is sealed. The future is electric and the revolution is ramping up.
      A wise person would realize that now is the time to jump off the fossil ship or go down with it.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      It’s Happy Talk because there is good reason to be happy. All of your points copy and pasted from Mark Mills are completely irrelevant.

      Nobody with any sense cares if:

      batteries are heavy
      batteries require mining
      the energy density of fossil fuel supposedly has meaning, relevancy, import, or consequences, because they don’t

      The whole effing point here is that despite the fact that the technology is young, new solar PLUS new storage is coming in at 3.5 cents per kWh.

      3.5 cents per kWh.

      Granted, it’s in Nevada which has great insolation, but so what? Nobody is stopping us from siting solar where it is optimally sited.

  3. Canman Says:

    Mark Z. Jacobson says: “Goodnight #naturalgas, goodnight #coal, goodnight #nuclear.”

    Why goodnight nuclear? It’s the cleanest, lowest environmental impact electricity source and it’s constant, rather than erratic.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Is nuclear cost-effective enough to draw private investors, or does it need to be subsidized from the public purse?

      • Canman Says:

        I’d argue that nuclear is the best thing that we should be subsidizing. Right now we’re subsidizing solar and wind for which there is no storage. We’re subsidizing solar panels and electric cars for rich people. We have portfolio standard in many states that exclude nuclear.

        Nuclear gives us robust reliable electricity during polar vortexes. It has a minimal environmental footprint.

        • redskylite Says:

          Well this post is about batteries, and certainly they are being deployed big time by major providers down under in Australia.

          Now about nuclear, they are very expensive, have complications of disposing of radioactive waste materials and (the current popular designs) need a reliable and steady supply of coolant.

          I’ve noticed that the current Korean design being built in the U.A.E sacrifices a very significant percentage of power to cooling, as the Persian Gulf waters are so hot. These waters will only get hotter as the green house gases we have dumped do their job in the future.

          So is nuclear so stable and reliable for the oncoming changes in climate ?

          • jfon Says:

            7% power loss from using the Persian Gulf for cooling, instead of the Sea of Japan? That’s not too bad. Excess heat can knock back solar panel output by 10-25%, and sandstorms – or dusk- reduce it to zero.

          • redskylite Says:

            Point taken – Barakah’s four APR-1400’s have a lifetime operation expectation of 60 years – not sure what the temperatures of the Persian Gulf will be in 60 years time – but the way many countries are continuing fossil fuel use, it will certainly be significantly elevated by then.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          Minimal footprint? Really?



          And then there is total lifespan carbon emissions of 66 grams for every kwh produced.

          Heating of coolant water effect on rivers

          A little thing called Chernobyl. Dozens of other leaks, meltdowns, accidents, deaths. Billions upon billions in clean-up, and decommissioning costs usually never included in cost analyses.

          Some shutdowns due to coolant water being too hot.

          All for a capacity factor of 75 – 95%.

          And at a bargain basement cost only 4 to 5 times higher than the solar with storage of this article.

          Gosh darn it all – I’m sold! Sign us up for more nuclear!! (Today, please, as it takes a decade or two to actually build one of the darn things)

          • dumboldguy Says:

            It’s too bad that GB insists on repeating the same old anti-nuclear bullshit rather than respond to the things that canman said that are scientific FACT and indisputable.

            “It’s the cleanest, lowest environmental impact electricity source and it’s constant, rather than erratic”.

            “It has a minimal environmental footprint”.

            We will likely continue to suffer from such delusional reasoning until it IS too late to mobilize nuclear power in time to avoid catastrophe. Not to worry, though, the geo-engineers are ready to squirt sulfur compounds into the atmosphere to make clouds—-we’ve dealt with acid rain before, and whats’ a little more?

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Everything I said is verifiable. Nuclear isn’t perfect!

            It isn’t constant, does not have a “minimal footprint” compared to other RE, and is not needed because it is way too expensive.

            Stop idealizing nuclear – it ain’t the best thing since sliced bread.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Those of us that recognize the FACTS about nuclear being something that should not have been excluded from the mix by deluded chicken little types like yourself do not “idealize” nuclear power. We simply recognize the TRUTHS that you in your cognitive dissonance and denial just can’t seem to deal with.

            Millions of people killed every year by fossil fuel use and the likelihood that all life on Earth is headed toward extinction, and you are worried about glowing in the dark? JFC, that’s insane!

          • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

            I see no need to include the disaster from the non-representative grossly mismanaged and poorly designed Chernobyl disaster in the calculation (especially since coal plant emissions have sickened and killed so very many people when operating as designed). It’s enough that they are not attractive to investors which risk losing billions on delays and unforeseen shutdowns on technology as built in the US. Plus all of those other water-related issues you listed.

            As for Canman’s complaint that nuclear should still be subsidized like EV, wind and solar, I’d like to note that government subsidy of transition to new technologies are only needed during the bootstrap phase, and nuclear power should be well beyond that. (Meanwhile, can we please stop subsidizing fossil fuel extraction and burning. And just pay unemployed coal miners to polish statues of Lenin or something.)

          • jfon Says:

            According to the IPCC, the lifetime carbon footprint of nuclear is about equal to wind, and well below that of solar.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            You all realize that citing the evils of fossil fuels as an argument FOR nuclear is a complete logic fail?

            Surprisingly, no – we have not forgotten that fossil fuels suck. That is why we debate how best to replace them.

            And nuclear might be high on the list of replacements. Except, of course, for its drawbacks (Yes,DOG, it actually does have drawbacks).

            The main one is that it is 4 to 5 times more expensive than the renewables which can already to do the job perfectly well. And that is IF you find somebody to build them in the US.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Your cognitive dissonance is about as strong as the Great Wall of China—-will it EVER weaken to the point that YOU will see your own logic fails in thus ongoing display odf stubborn self delusion you insist upon putting forth for us?

            No one here is “citing the evils of fossil fuels as an argument FOR nuclear”. We are merely trying to counter the antiscientific, emotion-based, and often downright STUPID comments put forth by the anti-nukers. Why do you continue to deny the scientific TRUTH of the superiority of nuclear power as a source of electricity (which has nothing to do with why it’s not being built).

          • Gingerbaker Says:


            “No one here is “citing the evils of fossil fuels as an argument FOR nuclear”. “

            Also DOG:

            “Millions of people killed every year by fossil fuel use and the likelihood that all life on Earth is headed toward extinction, and you are worried about glowing in the dark? JFC, that’s insane!”</b?

            Exactly what drug of abuse are you on, DOG?


            Fentanyl, injected under you eyelids, a la Jimi Hendrix?

            Crystal meth in urethral suppository form?

            For the life of me, I can not explain the cognitive dissonance of your rants, delivered within mere microbytes of each other, any other way.

            Oh God, DOG. please tell us you have NOT been swimming in those warm waters. Please, for the love of DOG, tell us you have been screened for that brain-eating amoeba?!?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias can be so strong that they act like a strait jacket. Witness GB’s inability to break out and “talk sense”—-he wastes our time with imagined verbal “cuteness” instead. A pity—he has his head on reasonably straight on most issues.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            AArgh! bolding mistake!

            Fix this or add editing, please. Thanks! 🙂

      • andrewfez Says:

        Nuclear subsidies are higher than the price of the energy they sell on the grid; you pay once through your tax dollars, then you pay again when they force you to buy their electricity at jacked up rates. They are the ultimate welfare queens; totally government dependent; their cost of borrowing capital would be MUCH, MUCH higher if there wasn’t a government guarantee on making things right with investors when construction is abandoned due to cost overruns. The last several years they’ve been trying to get their hands on those sweet, sweet production tax credits that really should be going to wind and solar….the trouble is they can’t even get a plant built to get at those credits lol lol!

        It’s MUCH cheaper to just put up a network of wind turbines in dozens of spots such that there is a ‘baseload’ (since the wind is always blowing somewhere) which tends to converge around the turbines’ capacity factors. That is to say it is CHEAPER to just run/build a network of turbines at 30% of their nameplate than to run/build the equivalent nuclear plant, regarding power production.

  4. colettebytes Says:

    Love this… Batteries for electricity storage are so important and I hope newer more effective (less toxic) batteries can be developed. Batteries are not a new idea. The ancient civilizations had batteries. Simple as they were, they were used for electroplating gold onto their royal artifacts, statues and death masks. Who knows, they may even used them in other ways.

    I applaud most US initiatives to produce clean energy reducing reliance on fossil fuel sources, except for one… Biomass. The US is currently hacking down and selling its trees into the biomass market, exporting to the UK, and Europe for use in existing coal power stations. It will soon appear in US power stations as little to no conversion is required in a power station currently burning coal. Biomass is a Greenwash idea that is not clean, is not even as efficient as coal and is very unlikely sustainable on a large scale. 2020 will see an explosion of US biomass wood pellet production as timber companies open their own production of biomass, or pair up on a grand scale with companies who do. They argue the huge profits to be made (the new coal) and have milked government funding for infrastructure (transportation of product), keen to meet the switch to green energy. But burning live trees instead of their long dead cousins (coal) is not sustainable unless they plant at least 10 trees for every one cut down, and even then, do you have a 20 – 40 year supply of burnable timber until the next crop are ready to feed the world. The US could find itself subjected to the same sad fate as Brazilian rainforest destruction , taking down and burning its most precious biodiverse areas (the South Eastern seaboard states are the 36th most biodiverse land in the world). Your unique forests are destined for felling and replacement with monoculture pine and hardwood stands (no understory). Is this really what Americans want?

    • colettebytes Says:

      This is a half hour documentary (free streaming) on the problem but does not actually mention the huge scale of China coming into the biomass market (so far looking to import Canadian biomass).

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Burning wood pellets (under the cute name of biomass) is one of the most evil and insidious plots the greedy rich have hatched to destroy the planet so they can make a profit.

        The Dogwood Alliance is the premier group fighting to save out southeastern forests, and is worthy of support—-lots of info also on their website:

        (Although considering how rapidly the world’s rainforests in the Amazon and the Congo are being destroyed and the huge impact that will have, it hardly seems worth worrying about tree loss in the U.S. SE and in Canada)

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      Independent of this biomass problem you’ve described, I appreciate using regularly-cropped pine tree stands for lumber which is effective sequestered in furniture, houses and buildings (and much later may be sequestered in landfills) while replacement trees for the next crop continue to suck up CO2.

      Even “short-term” sequestration of a few decades (longer if it goes into landfills) is of value as a buffer that defers it going into the atmosphere.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        Everything is mere rearrangement of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic if we can not stop burning fossil fuels, and leave most of the remaining stock in the ground.

        And we can not stop burning fossil fuels in various machines until we build the renewable energy machines that replace them. (Unless, of course, you want civilization to grind to a halt, killing almost every human in the process)

        Like Joe Romm said, and I keep repeating ad nauseum:

        “The only important thing is building and deploying new Renewable Energy”.

        Seriously, we need to concentrate on that goal. Nothing else – and there are a thousand topics to distract us – matters at all if we do not accomplish that goal in time.

        The media is pushing a misinterpretation of a Science study of late, getting people excited that reforestation can save us. It’s not only nuts – it is counterproductive to the point of being dangerous.

        • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

          Everything is mere rearrangement of the chairs on the deck of the Titanic if we can not stop burning fossil fuels, and leave most of the remaining stock in the ground.

          It would be nice if every news story about oil market politics (like Iran trying to sell it, or Venezuela trying to de-corrupt their petro industry) also pointed out that we need to stop using it.

  5. redskylite Says:

    Spent a lot of my working life working in large buildings containing (computer) servers, especially after the devolution of large mainframes. Interesting to see power distribution taking a similar route.

    “AES has broken ground on a 100 MW / 400 MWh battery storage system in Long Beach, California that will feed the Southern California Edison (SCE) region in a 20 year power purchase agreement. The facility was specifically procured to provide power at peak times of the day, offer local capacity and ramping/ancillary services. Construction is expected to complete by the end of 2020, and will complement a new air cooled 1 GW gas facility that is replacing an older ocean cooled system.”

  6. Peter Scheffler Says:

    A very interesting news item and discussion! 2,653 acres for the 8minute Solar Energy plant doesn’t seem to me a trivial amount of land for a 400 MW facility. But perhaps it and the area for mining the materials compare favorably with the lifecycle amounts of land needed for fossil and nuclear given the area needed for continually mining coal and storing ash and mining nuclear fuel plus isolation around nuclear waste facilities. Maybe some of you have good comparisons you could share.

Leave a Reply to Gingerbaker Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: