Energy Storage Isn’t Ready for Wide Deployment

Todd Royal
Todd Royal is an independent public policy consultant focusing on the geopolitical implications of energy based in Los Angeles, California.

California Senate Bill 100 (SB 100) mandates 100% clean energy deployment by 2045. Hydroelectric power won’t be included in this mix. Currently, there isn’t enough renewable energy – particularly solar and wind (the two main renewable and clean energy sources) deployed across the United States to meet Los Angeles County’s on-demand energy needs.

When understanding and examining energy storage for wide-scale, societal adoption that is scalable, affordable and reliable these factors need to be included: energy security, renewable power production and cyber security. SB 100 doesn’t account for energy storage being a non-starter at this time since the technology doesn’t meet any of the above-mentioned criteria. The best example that California policymakers and outgoing Governor Brown haven’t considered is Tesla’s deployment in November 2017 throughout South Australia of a lithium-ion battery storage system. This was hailed a great success a month later by:

“Smoothing out at least two major energy outages, responding more quickly than coal-fired backups and Tesla’s battery (Hornsdale Power Reserve) last week (December 2017) kicked in, in just 0.14 seconds after one of Australia’s biggest plants, the Loy Yang facility suffered a sudden, unexplained drop in output.”

There is a major problem with this line of analysis in late 2017 and even today in Australia – if Tesla’s battery storage system is that effective – then why did the Financial Times exclaim in late August, “Energy is at the Roots of Australia’s Political Crisis.” If California follows through with SB 100 without energy storage in place then ratepayers are doomed to higher rates like Australia, Germany and Denmark. These countries now experience energy blackouts and higher emissions through increased use of fossil fuels from coal-fired power plants. China is another example, which says it is the leader in green energy, is fooling world leaders and environmentalists bent towards renewable energy and energy storage products that aren’t ready for mass market.

China is building coal-fired power plants at a rapid pace while Australia – who signed the Paris Climate Agreement – exports billions a year in coal to Asia. If energy storage worked then renewable energy would work as well, since each technology complements the other. Renewables are intermittent and need energy storage capacity and/or fossil fuel backup. At this time only fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural) and nuclear power don’t need energy storage systems. The best solution is an all-of-the-above approach that relies overwhelmingly on fossil fuels (especially natural gas since it allowed the US to be the only industrialized country to meet the Kyoto Protocols) while working to overcome renewable energy’s intermittent issues and energy storage system’s limitations.

Back to Germany and the state of Minnesota as examples of failed renewable energy deployment where backup energy storage systems are unavailable, which will likely occur for California unless energy storage is solved. Bloomberg reported in mid-August how Germany’s climate goals have failed by stating:

“Germany, the nation that did more than any other to unleash the modern renewable-energy industry, is likely to fall short of its goals for reducing harmful carbon-dioxide emissions even after spending over $500 billion euros by 2025 to overhaul its energy system.”

Germany is one of the top economies in the world. Its engineering prowess for over a century is legendary, and comparable to Silicon Valley, while having the political will for green energy. But like California it still can’t blend renewable energy into emissions goals.

Additional problems occur for German renewable users and grid operators without adequate energy storage is, “the grid is so flooded with power that prices in the wholesale market sometimes drop below zero.” California has to sell our excess power at a loss to neighboring states from renewable energy excess. What further vexes German, EU, Chinese policymakers and the industrialized world is that Germany’s economy is more service-oriented, uses less energy and emits fewer CO2 unlike China and increasingly the US that leans heavily towards manufacturing and factories for larger shares of their respective GDP’s. Emission reductions and a carbon-free society will be more difficult to attain using renewable energy without scalable, affordable and reliable energy storage systems, which is the goal of SB 100.

The United States (US) has its own example where prices have risen without adequate energy storage that doesn’t include California, which is usually the example given for high wholesale and retail prices. However, Minnesota is a better example since historically Minnesota had rates 18.2% less than the national (US) average. Since 2009 Minnesota spent $10 billion on wind farms, upgraded transmission lines and the State’s renewable energy portfolio-standard, “requires utilities to generate 25-30% of electricity from renewable sources, mostly wind.”
All of this was suppose to be achieved without an energy storage system in place. The results: Minnesota’s rates beginning in February 2017 are now above the national average, and they have not reduced greenhouse emissions relative to the US average, or cut pollution.

If Minnesota had not moved forward on clean energy policies without energy storage in place and – instead stayed with their traditional energy mix – from 1990 to 2017 that state’s ratepayers would have saved $4.4 billion. Energy storage is the key besides the failure of intermittent renewables in each of these real-world examples.

But advocates for battery storage, smart grids and renewable energy will contend that the technology is available, scalable, and affordable while offering grid-flexibility. However, “Commercial large-scale batteries available today are rated to deliver stored electricity for only two hours or ten hours duration.” Energy storage technology – in the near or long-term future isn’t feasible – and no one can say if or when it will be available though California citizenry, its government and private industry keep insisting on renewable energy and a carbon-free society.

The US Department of Energy’s (DOE) Quadrennial Energy Review (QER) Part 1 (2015) that was completed under the Obama administration and definitively states what energy storage needs moving forward:

“Establish a framework and strategy for storage and flexibility: Energy storage is a key functionality that can provide flexibility, but there is little information on benefits and costs of storage deployment at the state and regional levels, and there is no broadly accepted framework for evaluation of benefits below the bulk system level.”

Any type of local, county, state, nation-state or international approach to energy storage systems will require a strategy and technology that includes flexibility, commonly accepted planning methods, on-demand consumer use, national and international connected transmission lines and be able to handle the variable, intermittent nature of renewable generation. Part 2 of the DOE’s, QER in 2017 also factored in that energy storage systems will need to handle increased cyber-security concerns and grid modernization for energy storage to be a factor in renewable energy and carbon-free society becoming a reality. California needs to consider all of these factors moving forward implementing SB 100 and begin the arduous process of building a new electrical grid.

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