The world’s largest battery could be the answer to California blackouts

A new project in San Diego will substantially increase the state’s storage capacity.

 

This story was originally published by Grist and is reproduced here as part of the SoJo Exchange stories from the Solutions Journalism Network.

Increasing battery storage capacity is a vital aspect of increasing renewable energy generation.

Move over, Australia — California has stolen the claim for largest battery installation in the world. In the middle of a vicious heatwave where demand for air conditioning led to rolling blackouts, an energy development company called LS Power was working hard to add more lithium-ion batteries to its Gateway Energy Storage project in San Diego.

As of last Monday, the facility is now capable of storing and dispatching 230 megawatts to the Golden State’s grid for one hour, and is set to beef up to 250 megawatts later this month. That knocks the previous titleholder, Tesla’s 100-megawatt Horndale Power Reserve in South Australia, out of the water. Sorry, Elon.

California aims to run its grid entirely on fossil fuel-free energy by 2045 and has been closing down dirty power plants and ramping up renewables at a steady clip. But while fuels can supply a steady stream of energy, the sun and wind are intermittent. That’s where large-capacity batteries like the Gateway project come in, storing excess energy during peak solar hours and dispatching it back to the grid in the evening when the sun is down but demand is still high. Battery installations haven’t kept pace with power plant shutdowns, which created the tight supply that resulted in blackouts last week.

Steve Berberich, the president and CEO of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which oversees the state’s electricity system, has said it will eventually need as much as 15,000 megawatts of battery storage to reach the state’s clean energy goal. In that context, the Gateway project is a drop in the bucket. But Berberich has called it a turning point in a series of large-capacity projects that are coming online this year.

California started 2020 with just 136 megawatts of storage, and is expected to have 923 by the end of the year. Anne Gonzales, a spokesperson for CAISO, told Grist that every little bit helps during a heat wave when the grid operator is scouring all entities for every megawatt that can be spared.

The Gateway project only holds one hour’s worth of energy right now, but that could change. The facility has the potential to scale up to a system that can dispatch 250 megawatts for four hours, or a 1,000-megawatt-hour system.

“We built Gateway as a shorter duration project, but we built it so we had room in the buildings … to expand that capacity when we had customers for that capacity,” John King, LS Power’s head of renewables, told Greentech Media.

The company has other major energy storage projects under development, including an even larger 316-megawatt system in Queens, New York. But even once that project comes online, it’s unlikely to hold the record for long.

A 400-megawatt project is currently under construction in Monterey Bay, California, by Vistra Corp., and the company recently secured a permit to scale up to 1,500 megawatts should “market and economic conditions support” the expansion. And across the country in the Sunshine state, Florida Power and Light, a utility company, is building a 409-megawatt solar-plus-storage facility that is expected to be running by the end of next year. In short, this competition is just starting to heat up.

Emily Pontecorvo is a news and politics fellow at GristEmail High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • LAND AND WATER CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    The Land and Water Conservation Director is a full-time salaried position with the Mountain Area Land Trust in Evergreen, CO. The successful candidate will have...
  • ARIZONA PROGRAM MANAGER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks an Arizona Program Manager. The Arizona Program Manager works...
  • CROWN OF THE CONTINENT COMMUNITY CONSERVATION SPECIALIST
    THE WILDERNESS SOCIETY is seeking a Community Conservation Specialist, for the Crown of the Continent DEPARTMENT: Conservation CLASSIFICATION: Grade 6 Specialist/Representative (Low of $54K) REPORTS...
  • ASSISTANT FARM DIRECTOR
    About The Organization Building community through fresh vegetables is at the heart of the Sisters-based non-profit, Seed to Table Oregon. Based on a four-acre diversified...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, Hike the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • DYNAMIC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    VARD is seeking an Executive Director to lead a small legal & planning staff dedicated to the health and sustainability of Teton Valley Idaho and...
  • WATER PROJECT MANAGER, UPPER SAN PEDRO (ARIZONA)
    Based in Tucson or Sierra Vista, AZ., the Upper San Pedro Project Manager develops, manages, and advances freshwater conservation programs, plans, and methods focusing on...
  • CAMPAIGNS DIRECTOR
    Southeast Alaska Conservation is hiring. Visit https://www.seacc.org/about/hiring for info. 907-586-6942 [email protected]
  • FINANCE & GRANTS MANAGER
    The Blackfoot Challenge, located in Ovando, MT, seeks a self-motivated, detail-oriented individual to conduct bookkeeping, financial analysis and reporting, and grant oversight and management. Competitive...
  • WADE LAKE CABINS, CAMERON MT
    A once in a lifetime opportunity to live and run a business on the shore of one of the most beautiful lakes in SW Montana....
  • CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, BOOKS, CULTURE AND COMMENTARY (PART-TIME, CONTRACT)
    High Country News is seeking a Contributing Editor for Books, Culture and Commentary to assign and edit inquisitive, inspiring, and thought-provoking content for HCN in...
  • STATEWIDE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    ABOUT US Better Wyoming is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization that educates, organizes, and mobilizes Wyoming residents on behalf of statewide change. Learn more at...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    TwispWorks is a 501(c)3 that promotes economic and cultural vitality in the mountainous Methow Valley, the eastern gateway to North Cascades National Park in Washington...
  • CLEAN ENERGY ADVOCATE OR DIRECTOR
    Location: Helena, Montana Type: Permanent, full time after 1-year probationary period. Reports to: Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs. Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state...
  • PROFESSIONAL GIS SERVICES
    Custom Geospatial Solutions is available for all of your GIS needs. Affordable, flexible and accurate data visualization and analysis for any sized project.
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Restore Hetch Hetchy, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization, seeks experienced development professional to identify and engage individuals and institutions who are inspired to help underwrite...
  • PUBLIC LANDS COUNSEL
    The successful candidate will be the organization's lead counsel on public lands issues, including reviewing federal administrative actions and proposed policy and helping to shape...
  • GUIDE TO WESTERN NATIONAL MONUMENTS
    NEW BOOK showcases 70 national monuments across the western United States. Use "Guide10" for 10% off at cmcpress.org
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!