First planned Californian black outs in two decades reveal weakness in higher renewables loads, but battery storage expanding
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Combustion Industry News Editor
Battery storage capacity is increasing quickly in California, as the Financial Times has reported. Mid-August saw the launch of the new world’s most powerful lithium-ion battery, the 250 MW Gateway battery outside of San Diego, built and owned by LS Power. (The previous largest was the 100 MW Hornsdale Power Reserve battery in South Australia.) A total of 648 MW of capacity is to be added in California this year, and 1,112 MW is expected to be added next year, which would take the state’s total to 2,090 MW. (For comparison, the total installed power generation capacity in California is ~80,000 MW, of which something like 25-30 GW is renewable). While the California Independent System Operator has estimated that around 15 GW of battery storage would be needed by 2045 to meet a goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the power grid to zero, a study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has suggested that “near-complete decarbonisation of California’s power sector by 2030” could be achieved with only minor cost increases, or even cost savings, using only solar, wind, and battery storage (a finding that, on the surface, contrasts with The Brattle Group’s recently released study). Interestingly, the Laboratory paper does not envisage the use of hydrogen as a means of storing energy, but the head of the California Independent System Operator, on the other hand, has said “batteries won’t fix this alone. Solar and other renewables will have to be overbuilt to both charge the batteries and serve the load at the same time”. Regardless, the rise of batteries in California seems to have great momentum, and the state will become a leading example of grid operation with large amounts of batter storage.
The launch of the Gateway battery comes amid a context of California’s first planned blackouts in two decades, which is seen by some as a failure of the state’s increasing reliance on renewables. A heatwave in the region has led to high demand for electricity for air conditioning, meaning that California’s recent recourse of importing power from neighbouring states to cover the intermittency of renewables has not been possible – its neighbouring states have needed the power. Meanwhile, California has been closing some nuclear power plants before the end of their expected life, wind energy has ‘see-sawed’, and some gas fired plants have experienced unexpected failures, creating an unfortunate scenario the grid is struggling to cope with. Electricity prices in the state have been rising faster than in other states, too. Until the heatwave passes, it seems California will be paying the price for not having planned its renewables roll-out carefully enough.