California to Test Whether Big Batteries Can Stop Summer Blackouts

Bloomberg

AES Corp. in January commissioned a 100-megawatt battery installation in Long Beach, California, using Fluence batteries. Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg

The state is set to become a global test case in using batteries to back up wind and solar power

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. Biden’s long-awaited infrastructure plan, unveiled this week, includes a tax credit for grid-scale batteries, according to U. 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.

The state’s plan to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 may require installing 48.8 gigawatts of energy storage, according to a report by three state agencies — more than five times the output of all the grid-scale batteries currently operating worldwide. Other countries are also doubling down on batteries, with China on track to increase capacity to 222 gigawatts by the middle of the century from 1.4 gigawatts in 2019. Australia has a pipeline of grid-scale battery projects totaling more than 11 gigawatts, according to BNEF. But batteries do have two major limitations — time and cost.

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. Not only are they a lot faster to permit and build, batteries can generate income by letting owners arbitrage power prices, charging when electricity is cheap and discharging when it’s expensive. They also offer other grid services like stabilizing voltage throughout the day. “There’s been enough deployment around the world and operating history that utilities seem to be comfortable with it,’’ said energy consultant Mike Florio, a former member of the California Public Utilities Commission.

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Source: David R Baker | Bloomberg

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