Charging station abstract concept vector illustration. Electric vehicle, recharging point, plug-in hybrids, alternative fuel, electrical outlet, battery capacity, power abstract metaphor. | Credit: Courtesy

The Moss Landing Power Plant was, until recently, California’s largest electric power station. This former gas generator is now being pulled out of mothballs and transformed into California’s (and for a short period, the world’s) largest utility-scale battery. Its 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery is ready to come online, with another 100-megawatt battery to start working by mid-year. At the same facility, Tesla is providing even more storage, 182.5 megawatts’ worth, also by mid-2021. The combined capacity will be able to supply power to every house in San Francisco for 6 hours. 

San Diego, Long Beach, and the Bay Area are adding utility-size storage this year as well. A 2013 bill set a state target of 1.325 gigawatts (1,000 megawatts) of storage for the state’s grid by 2020. California has met and exceeded this goal. Not surprisingly, California leads the world in high-capacity batteries. Four factors are driving this development: (1) steeply falling battery prices, (2) technological progress, (3) California’s carbon-free electrical grid mandate by 2045, and (4) tax incentives for storage systems. Other places in the country and world are close on California’s heels, however. Chile, Saudi Arabia, England, New York, Florida, and Lithuania all have 100-plus-megawatt-battery storage developments scheduled for completion this year. 

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The mass deployment of storage most likely will overcome one of the biggest obstacles to renewable energy — cycling between oversupply when the sun shines or the wind blows, and shortage when the sun sets or the wind calms. By leveling out the imbalances between supply and demand, gas-fired “peaker” plants that only run for a few hours, when demand peaks, will be phased out. Edison is shutting down three “peaker” plants in Oxnard, and another that was planned for there has been scrapped.

The price tag for utility-scale battery storage in the U.S. fell 70 percent between 2015 and 2018 (U.S. Energy Information Administration) and is projected to drop another 45 percent in the coming years. This parallels the price drop we witnessed with solar panels, largely due to technological advances and economies of scale from mass production. Some estimate that at least 30 gigawatts of large-scale storage will be needed in California to reach the clean-grid 2045 goal.

Adding storage makes renewable energy more profitable. Wesley Cole with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory says, “One of the challenges of renewable energy is the more you put on the grid, the more the value declines. Storage helps deal with that by soaking up excess energy that would have been lost in the middle of the day, when electricity demand is lower, and moving it to a time when it is more valuable.”

Lithium-ion batteries have a head start in grid-scale applications, but other batteries are also proving capable. Recent developments are making some inexpensive, long-lived, and safe, and in some cases easily scalable. 

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