World’s largest lithium-ion storage battery

Aerial view of the new batteries on SDG&E's grid/SDG&E.

Escondido got the world’s largest something this weekend, so that’s something big.

Let us introduce to you the world’s largest lithium-ion bayberry presented Saturday by San Diego Gas & Electric. It’s online and humming, officially unveiled by the utility following a fast-track procurement process that began less than a year ago.

The 30-MW, 120-MWh system supplied by AES Energy Storage, a Virginia-based company was built at El Cajon. It’s part of an expedited response by the state and the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to the loss of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility north of Los Angeles last year.

The sudden loss of that storage capacity put major constraints on the area’s gas-fired generation and meant that peaker facilities faced the risk of not having gas to run when they were needed.

Energy companies have traditionally shied away from installing battery systems at their plants because they’ve tended to be expensive. But as prices for energy storage come down and states like California require more and more intermittent renewable energy on utilities’ grids, battery installations have been on an upswing.

“This project is evidence that California is moving into a post-renewable world,” Michael Picker, CPUC president said. “I didn’t expect to see these kinds of prices in batteries until 2022, 2024 …we are far in advance of where we expected to be.”

The brand new energy storage facility can serve 20,000 customers for four hours. The Escondido system consists of 24 containers hiding nearly 20,000 modules that hold 20 batteries each. SDG&E said it hopes to have 330 MW of energy storage on its system by 2030.

“San Diego County is a community of leadership and innovation, so it is only fitting that this community should receive the benefit of this unique project,” said Scott Drury, SDG&E’s president.

The facility will provide grid support for north-central San Diego County. Josh Gerber, SDG&E’s manager of advanced technology integration, said it will serve mainly in a time-shifting role, charging during the day and discharging during the evening.

Although SDG&E has one of the highest levels of penetration for distributed solar of any utility in the continental U.S., with more than 1% of its retail customers operating under net-metering agreements, balancing that generation isn’t the intent of the battery system. “It’s a bulk resource for the grid,” Gerber said.

Bulk storage. San Diego Gas & Electric’s new 30-MW, 120-MWh battery storage system in Escondido, Calif., is the largest grid-connected battery in the world./SDG&E

John Zahurancik, president of AES Energy Storage, said the technology that can meet these roles has changed dramatically a very short period of time. The cost of battery storage systems has fallen 85% since AES’s first project in Huntington Beach, Calif., in 2009, he said.

“If we had faced these challenges just a few years ago, we would be looking at a new gas power plant.” Zahurancik said.

But building a gas peaker plant for SDG&E would have been a different proposition.

“It would have been harder to locate something like that here,” Zahurancik said. “You would need to bring in gas, you would need water, and it would have a larger environmental impact on the area. This a much simpler, lower-profile approach.”

California and Massachusetts may be the most aggressive states when it comes to pushing renewable energy and shying away from fossil fuels. This week, in fact, legislators from each state introduced bills to require energy companies serving their state move to 100 percent renewable energy in the coming decades.

In California, state senator Kevin De León (representing downtown and eastern Los Angeles) introduced a bill to move California to 50 percent renewable energy on the grid by 2025 and 100 percent renewable energy-based electricity by 2050. Currently, the state’s laws require it to reduce its energy-related greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent of 1990 levels by 2030.

The Massachusetts bill is even more aggressive. Rep. Sean Garballey, Rep. Marjorie Decker, and Sen. Jamie Eldridge proposed a bill that would move the state to 100 percent renewable sources by 2035. That bill has been sent to the state senate committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

Both bills would have to be approved by their states’ legislature to go into effect.

Up close and personal with a lithium-ion battery array/SDG&E

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