In California: Ramping Up Storage for a Hot Summer

April 2, 2021

California, mindful of approaching fire season, and last year’s rolling blackouts caused by record heat and fires, is rushing to ramp up grid scale storage for electric power.

Most of it will be lithium-ion based, and most appropriate for day-to-day, rather than Long Duration Energy Storage (LDES). But they are going big.
Above, site of planned new battery storage site being built by Apple near Monterey.

Bloomberg:

With summer’s heat approaching, California’s plan for avoiding a repeat of last year’s blackouts hinges on a humble savior – the battery.

Giant versions of the same technology that powers smart phones and cars are being plugged into the state’s electrical grid at breakneck speed, with California set to add more battery capacity this year than all of China, according to BloombergNEF.

It will be the biggest test yet of whether batteries are reliable enough to sustain a grid largely powered by renewables. Last year, when the worst heat wave in a generation taxed California’s power system and plunged millions into darkness in the first rolling blackouts since the Enron crisis, many blamed the state’s aggressive clean-energy push and its reliance on solar power. Should a heat wave strike again this summer, it will be up to batteries save the day.

Their success or failure may even have implications for President Joe Biden’s ambitious plan to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2035 – which would require massive battery deployment and the expansion of renewable energy systems across the nation. Biden’s long-awaited infrastructure plan, unveiled this week, includes a tax credit for grid-scale batteries, according to U.S. Energy Storage Association. They’re part of his larger effort not just to shift to renewable power but to make the aging electric grid more reliable. 

“This is going to be the preview summer for batteries in California, and we want to make sure this initial chapter is as successful as possible,’’ said Elliot Mainzer, chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid across most of the state.

By this August, the state will have 1,700 megawatts of new battery capacity — enough to power 1.3 million homes and, in theory, avert a grid emergency on the scale of last year’s.

But batteries do have two major limitations – time and cost. Most of the battery packs now available are designed to run for just four hours at a stretch. While that makes them a good fit for California, where electricity supplies can be strained in early summer evenings after solar power shuts  down, batteries would not have prevented the multi-day outage that paralyzed Texas in February. A battery can only operate for so long before it needs to recharge.

“If batteries last four hours, then that’s not really going to do the job,” said Kit Konolige, senior analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “It’s still somewhat unproven, using batteries for a large portion of capacity.”

The Verge:

Apple announced Wednesday that it’s building a big battery storage project at a Northern California solar farm it spearhead in 2015. But what the company didn’t share is that the battery packs will come from Tesla, The Verge has learned.

The newly-announced setup, which will store up to 240 megawatt-hours of energy, was approved by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in 2020, according to documentssubmitted last year. It will consist of 85 Tesla lithium-ion “megapacks” and be used to help power the company’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino. Monterey County’s planning chief confirmed that Apple will use the Tesla batteries in an email to The Verge. Apple declined to comment. Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. 

One Response to “In California: Ramping Up Storage for a Hot Summer”

  1. doldrom Says:

    As long as California as grid issues (shutting down lines for fear of fire), sources of electricity will matter little. Last summer they had enough reserves on tap, they just couldn’t route it around efficiently.

    Batteries will make a huge contribution to balancing and stabilizing the grid more cheaply and reliably, but the grid itself needs to be reliable as well. As the Texas disaster shows, the grid is not just planB for renewables, it is always planB, and renewables are just an extra reason to be able to import & export (! negative electricity rates) power when required.


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