Battery Storage Powers Forward

by Andrew Grandahl

The state of Hawaii is truly breathtaking in its beauty. Stunning lush mountaintops, brilliant sunsets over the Pacific, misty waterfalls ornamented by rainbows…but living by these wonders of the natural world comes at a cost. In terms of electricity affordability by state, Hawaii is dead last, and by a good margin. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA), Hawaiians handed over an average of 26.17 cents per kilowatt hour to utilities companies for their electricity. By comparison, second-to-last Connecticut averaged 17.77 cents per kWh. Oklahomans and Washingtonians paid less than 8 cents per kWh.

The differences are significant, and there are many factors for these disparities in price. One major contributor, particularly in Hawaii’s case, is geography. Obviously isolated to an extreme degree from the mainland, Hawaii has relied on importing fossil fuels at high costs for decades. And unlike other states, Hawaii can’t benefit from large, integrated energy grids because of the distance between islands. Because of this, each island is responsible for solving their own electricity demands.

On the northernmost island of Kauai, solar power has swung in to the rescue. Tesla and its recent acquisition SolarCity have partnered with the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative to install a 13MW solar farm spanning 45 acres, accompanied by 53 MWh of battery storage in the form of Tesla Powerpacks. According to Tesla, this is the largest combined solar/storage facility in the world. Annually, the solar farm, known as the Kapaia Project, will reduce the island’s fossil fuel use by 1.6 million gallons.

Tesla CTO JB Straubel commented on the significance of the project. “This is the first time that solar energy can be delivered very reliably into the night. That’s the key to scaling renewable energies up.” Though the project won’t entirely eliminate the island’s use of fossil fuels, it will succeed in making the local energy grid less carbon-intensive. Plus, the more local Hawaiians energy sources are, they more money they stand to save in the long run. If there's one thing the archipelago has an abundance of, it's sun.

Over 5,000 miles away off the shore of Martha’s Vineyard, wind farm developer Deepwater Wind says they are planning a joint project with Tesla 12 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. Named Revolution Wind Farm, the project would have the capacity to generate 144 MW of power, enough to power 80,000 homes. And like the Kapaia Project, Revolution Wind will be using Tesla battery units to store the energy it produces.

The project still has yet to be approved, and at this point is little more than rumors. But Deepwater Wind has a history of success with offshore wind generation in New England; last year it switched on America’s first off-shore wind farm right off of Block Island, Rhode Island. And knowing Tesla's appetite to prove and implement its new battery tech, a partnership between the two companies would make plenty of sense.

In the meantime, the world watches as Tesla races to build the largest lithium-ion battery on Earth to add reliability to South Australia’s struggling electricity grid. In a bold move, CEO Elon Musk promised Australian politicians via twitter that Tesla could complete the installation of the project within 100 days, or it’s free. Putting aside the publicity stunts, the success of these projects have profound implications in proving the technical capabilities of battery storage for renewable energy projects around the world. Storing the energy during nighttime or wind-less hours has long been a nagging problem that many would say has held back renewables the most. With these new ventures from a few companies dead-set on bringing about the future, we are clearly at an exciting turning point in how we power the Earth. Each successful project inspires confidence in new ones, and brings us that much closer to a planet that runs on clean, reliable energy. Here’s to a bright future.