Energy Storage will get us out of this Mess

Lawren Markle
Senior Communications Director, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC)

So here we are again, with blackouts in California, but the cause is new.  We are starting to see the need to shore up one critical piece of our renewable energy strategy: energy storage.  It is only by adding enough energy storage that we can support peak load after the sun has set.  Some people say that blackouts are the result of adding too much renewable energy. But really, we just don’t have the right ratio of energy storage to solar yet.

The great news is that the economics and scale of battery projects have changed dramatically in just this past year.  Batteries have become cheaper and the scale of battery capacity is growing fast in California.   In fact, we are overproducing energy during peak sunlight hours, and more storage would allow us to bank that energy for later, rather than curtail or dump it.  We just need to speed up storage deployment.

California isn’t the only place in this predicament.  Australia famously installed 100 megawatts (MW) of battery storage in 100 days in 2017, when faced with a similar threat of blackouts.  A little California company named Tesla did that project.  The system is doing such a good job of addressing peak demand that they just this month expanded the batteries

But nowadays, LA is setting the pace, adding some of the lowest cost renewable energy projects in the country.  Last year LADWP did an extraordinary deal with 8MinuteEnergy to build 400MW of solar energy, with 300MW/1200 MWh of battery storage.  That is a massive amount of energy storage available for the peak demand between 4pm to 9pm and we should applaud.  That one project alone will supply about 7% of DWP’s energy demand, starting in 2022 and fully operational in 2023.  The power purchase agreement provides renewable energy at a cost among the lowest in the U.S. 

Another example from this past year is Glendale, which found the economics had changed so fast, the city tore up plans to build a gas peaker plant and instead ordered solar plus storage, including a 75-MW/300-MWh Tesla battery installation, a project the city estimated will save ratepayers $125 million.  

And there’s an exciting new trend Glendale is tapping, an agreement with Sunrun wherein that residential solar installer will aggregate the storage it has installed at hundreds of homes and centrally coordinate those batteries to support the grid.  Homeowners are compensated for the power, and it reduces the risk of blackouts.  Other solar installers will follow this business model. It matters, because residential storage installs in California were projected to quadruple this year compared to last year, so this capacity will help us manage the grid, and installation creates many good jobs.

Now, there are a lot of things we can do to accelerate deployment of storage and create jobs… while fixing our grid problem.  

For example, California’s SGIP incentive program is designed to help economically disadvantaged communities buy energy storage for homes, but it’s not enough incentive, and we can solve that, and make sure the work builds careers for people in these same underserved neighborhoods. 

We can help LA-based storage startups and other renewable energy businesses with technical assistance, introductions, and investment so they grow and hire, which also gives LA a competitive advantage in the global renewable energy market.  Again, that means jobs.

We can help job seekers find our local community colleges that offer new curriculum in both energy storage and microgrids, and encourage people to utilize work-based learning opportunities including union apprenticeships.  

We can make it easier for installation businesses and shed a few pounds of paperwork by asking our local government to adopt automated permitting for energy storage with the new Solar App from the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).  

We can encourage more equity in renewable energy by supporting Solar On Multifamily Affordable Housing (SOMAH), which rewards renters whose buildings have renewable energy.

What do we get?  A more resilient, sustainable, and equitable energy grid, that grows jobs and businesses.  And all we were really trying to do was prevent blackouts.

Let’s support California innovation, policies, programs and incentives to create and install more energy storage as fast as possible.  If the Aussies can fix it in 100 days, surely we can fix it fast too.

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