California Moving to Grid Scale Storage

A couple of weeks ago, Matt Wald wrote this story for the NYT.  Here is how the story begins:

Solar power is growing so fast in California — with installations by customers increasing tenfold since 2006 — that it is turning the state’s power system upside down.
In a twist that is being closely watched by power companies around the country, California utilities will install massive banks of batteries and other devices to store the power surplus created by solar panels in the afternoon, when the sun’s rays are strong.
After beginning the article by implying that CA power companies have invested in new storage capacity on their own, Wald buries the real story in the middle of his article:

The relatively new idea of using batteries — which could be bundled in packs, each about the size of an 18-wheel truck trailer — to store electricity during the day and discharge it in the evening is aimed at coping with rapid changes in supply and demand. The expense of the batteries, possibly in the billions of dollars for California, has limited their use.

But booming solar power in California has changed the equation and made the California Public Utilities Commission take a different path.

At the end of October, the commission ordered the utility companies it regulates to install some form of energy storage equipment — exactly what was not specified — in the first mandate of its kind in the country.

As power company whining about the burden of solar power increased in CA, the PUC there order power companies to quit whining and serve the state and its new solar generation partners.
We currently have a chicken and egg standoff with grid scale storage, much like the one we had with solar PV cells 20 years ago.  The technology is too expensive, because there isn’t a market for it, and there isn’t a market for it because it is too expensive.  An important function of regulation is to break this kind of logjam to increase the speed and scale of innovation.  That is exactly what the CA PUC did with this decision to require new grid scale storage capacity in CA.  Note that Wald reports that the PUC did not dictate the technology, they just ordered an increase in installed capacity.  That is all it takes.
Despite the fact that Mr. Wald seems to have missed the real story here, his article is well worth reading, because it includes a lot of the real world issues involved with integrating solar power and transforming out obsolete electric grid.

One thought on “California Moving to Grid Scale Storage

  1. No matter how much they kick and scream, technology continues to march relentlessly on, and if utilities don’t embrace it, they will get run over by it. Even PJM has one of those nifty battery trailers to play with.

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