World’s biggest battery connects to Calif. grid in crisis

Source: By David Ferris, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, August 23, 2020

California’s electricity crunch over the past week, amid a crisis of a heat wave, wildfires and a pandemic, is being eased in part by a massive new battery installation outside San Diego.

Gateway Energy Storage, a 230-megawatt installation, is the largest plant to come online since the state issued its first storage mandate in 2010 and is the largest in the world.

A cavalry of other battery titans is coming to help resolve California’s energy problems — starting next year. Thousands of megawatts of energy storage projects are slated to come online through 2023, too late to help with rolling blackouts on Aug. 14 and Saturday.

The calamity in California has quickly become a political flashpoint, with President Trump and prominent Republicans portraying the power cuts as America’s grim future if Democratic nominee Joe Biden wins the November presidential election and follows through with his plan to zero out U.S. electricity sector CO2 emissions by 2035.

Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee put out a statement yesterday titled, “Democrats Want California’s Blackouts To Be Our Green New Normal.”

The Golden State is betting that battery projects can put it on a trajectory to head off future grid crises and still reduce carbon emissions on the way to its own 2045 net-zero goal.

The Gateway project started ramping up its output Aug. 14, when the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) declared a grid emergency and began rolling blackouts that affected about 700,000 electricity users that evening (Energywire, Aug. 20).

The project is backed by LS Power, a fast-growing energy player that acquired electric vehicle charging provider EVgo last December. Gateway, located in San Diego County, started as a 62-MW installation in June and will grow to 250 MW by the end of the month, LS Power said.

Other such projects got in motion last November, when the California Public Utilities Commission approved a plan for the state’s utilities to build 3,300 MW of new energy supplies, most of it batteries, “to avoid a potential system emergency.”

Power companies, the commission said, are “encouraged to conduct their procurement with an eye toward grid resiliency, the need for which has been recently demonstrated with the experience with wildfires and power shutoffs.”

What has followed is a series of battery projects that have been heralded for their speed and size.

LS Power built the Gateway project in San Diego. Also under construction are a 200-MW battery installation in the San Francisco Bay Area and a 125-MW one near the Mexican border.

Other projects underway include one by Vistra Corp. to add 100 MW to a 300-MW energy storage system in Northern California’s Moss Landing and a series of nine battery installations to be built by Capital Dynamics, an asset management firm, and Tenaska, an energy builder based in Nebraska.

Many of these projects are designed to alleviate the kind of systemwide emergency that occurred in the last week.

A severe heat wave on Aug. 14 taxed the electrical grid as air conditioners kicked on across the state. With some gas-powered plants offline and scarce electricity available in nearby states, CAISO declared an emergency.

A fundamental reason for the shortfall is inadequate planning surrounding California’s ballooning supply of solar power. CAISO experienced a shortfall as the sun sank, and with it the supply of solar power, even as the heat stayed high.

The crisis led to finger-pointing among state officials (Energywire, Aug. 18).

The circumstances of California’s energy shortfall defy easy labels, ClearView Energy Partners, a research firm, said in a note yesterday.

“When consumers (and voters) are in dark, hot homes, leaders with accountability to their constituents have strong incentives to reach for quick answers,” ClearView said, “even when the complexity of underlying factors may defy immediate explication.”