by Emma Hibbard
There’s been a lot of buzz around battery storage, more specifically, its ability to replace or supplement other sources of energy. While battery storage does not “generate” electricity or energy in the classic way that burning fossil fuels or harnessing renewable resources does, it provides energy in its own way. Batteries do not produce power on their own, they store energy produced by other sources in order to later dispense energy when it is needed. A great use for batteries is to make up for the intermittent nature of renewable sources such as storing solar power to be used when it’s dark, or storing wind power to be used when there is no wind blowing.
Last January, the California Public Utilities Commission ordered Pacific Gas and Electric Power Company (PG&E) to seek storage or other non-fossil fuel alternatives to 3 natural gas-fired power plants. Now, 4 battery storage projects are set to come online in 2020, including 2 of the largest in the world. Not only are they huge advances for battery storage, but they are the first energy storage projects to replace natural gas generators that are being retired. The plants being replaced are no longer economical, meaning they cost more to maintain than the amount of energy they generate. The plants are also peaking plants, meaning they are only used in times of high demand, for example on the hottest or coldest days of the year. Since they are used to ensure reliability in local areas throughout high demand, they have had reliability-must-run contracts (or RMR’s) for years, despite being very expensive.
The battery storage options are, according to analysts, cheaper than the cost to continue running the gas plants. Batteries will store renewable energy from solar and wind energy when it isn’t needed, and dispatch energy during the peak hours that the gas plants would have run. Effectively, they’re replacing the need for the natural gas plants and integrating increasing amounts of renewable energy into the electric grid. While the lithium-ion batteries that will be used are an expensive option (see how lithium-ion batteries work here), experts note that “storage at this scale is likely now cheaper than the total cost to run the gas plants” and will result in profits.
The use of batteries to supplement renewable generation and make it more reliable is a huge step in the direction toward a carbon-free energy future. As the price of large-scale battery storage projects continues to decrease, we hope to see more states following in California’s footsteps.