With several large, grid-scale battery-storage facilities opening in quick succession in Southern California, pundits say the state has taken a leading role in developing infrastructure to hold renewable power generated during low-demand periods, using it to supply customers during peak hours. 

Officials with utilities and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) highlighted what they called the “world’s largest deployment of grid battery projects” at the VerdeXchange conference, held in Los Angeles on Jan. 30-31.

The four projects, totaling 77.5 MW, were fast-tracked to replace in six months energy storage capacity lost in 2015, after the massive natural-gas leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility. The subsequent shutdown left utilities scrambling to supply peak support in the summer.

The current world-record holder, according to officials with utility San Diego Gas & Electric and supplier AES Energy Storage, uses 400,000 lithium-ion batteries to store and deliver up to 30 MW of power over four hours, or 120 MWh.

Just prior to the conference, officials with Southern California Edison flipped the switch on the 20 MW, or 80 MWh, Mira Loma Battery Storage Facility, in Ontario, Calif. It uses batteries manufactured at Tesla’s new Gigafactory near Reno, Nev.

The facility “is the tip of the iceberg of how much storage we’ll see on the grid,” predicted Tesla Chief Technical Officer JB Straubel at the ribbon-cutting.

Another 20-MW, or 80-MWh, facility went on line in Pomona at the end of 2016. Built in four months for AltaGas at a cost of approximately $42.5 million, the facility uses Samsung batteries.

“We are starting to see renewables competing against renewables, not just against fossil fuels,” says CPUC President Michael Picker. As a result, “California has become post-renewable.”

Due to favorable contracts, utilities are procuring ahead of the state’s requirement to hit 33% of electricity supply generated by renewables by 2020, Picker says. “The value that’s added isn’t simply getting renewable electricity. It’s all the technologies that we use to actually help people get more value out of it,” including grid stability and resilience, he adds.

The CPUC targets more than 1.3 GW of energy storage by 2020 for California.

David Wright, Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power general manager, said his agency will begin a battery-storage project this summer as part of an effort to build 178 MW of storage by 2021.

Conference presenters also highlighted other soon-to-market storage options. “We will see energy storage transform in the same way that renewables have over time,” says Jim Kelly, ARES CEO and former Southern California Edison executive. Pointing out that 93% of energy storage is pumped hydroelectricity, rather than batteries, “we will see several different tranches of energy storage and several different flavors.”

For example, Japanese manufacturing giant Sumitomo highlighted its introduction into the U.S. market the flow battery, which could challenge lithium ion’s current domination of the grid storage market. The expensive, large-scale storage technology has been used in Japan for decades, but new chemical options could make it more competitive in the U.S.

Susan Kennedy, CEO of Advanced Microgrid Solutions, notes that, regardless of what technology wins out, “all of the deployment will be driven by the need of the utilities to manage and upgrade the distribution grid. There is no tax subsidy big enough to support the deployment of energy storage behind the meter unless it is part of a distribution-grid solution. That’s where the money is.”