The BESS of Times, the Worst of Times
I would like 36.3 terawatt-hours of your finest energy storage systems, por favor
Grant Dever, a good friend to this blog, has a new paper at FREOPP.org entitled “The Urgency of Rethinking U.S. Nuclear Energy Regulation.”
The post contains some interesting numbers on energy storage in California, and these numbers jibe with some of the hardline energy storage criticism I’ve documented at this Substack.
Here’s a passage that immediately caught my eye:
A grid powered solely by wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries will be neither reliable nor affordable. California, with immense public investment in renewables and by far the largest GDP of any state, is at present dependent on fossil fuels and, without significant policy changes, will be for decades to come. The costs of implementing a grid based solely on renewable energy and battery storage rise nonlinearly as a greater portion of the energy mix comes from non-dispatchable sources, like wind and solar.
A report by the Clean Air Task Force estimated that California would need 9.6 terawatt-hours of energy storage to maintain grid reliability with 80 percent of power coming from renewables. However, to maintain grid reliability with 100 percent of power coming from renewables would require 36.3 terawatt-hours of energy storage. Building batteries at this scale is impractical and the land use requirements to generate and transmit this power would be undesirable.
To recap, I genuinely like energy storage technologies even though I’ve been critical of wind/solar/storage systems at scale. I think these technologies are interesting and useful, and as discussed previously in this space, they have dynamic potential if operated in the proper situational context.
However, as Grant notes, California’s plans for storage are ambitious to a point that goes well beyond situational context:
Although California leads the country in utility-scale battery storage, it would need to multiply its storage capacity by a factor of 10,000 to achieve 100 percent renewable energy reliance. Even if this venture could succeed in California, it would not be a model for the rest of the world to follow. Additionally, if our goal is to accelerate the reduction of global carbon emissions, the batteries necessary to take California from 80 percent to 100 percent renewables would be better off being deployed to enable more renewable energy in a locality with a more carbon intensive energy mix.
Additionally, one wonders if some hiccups that California storage projects have experienced lately are indicative of a trend.
Southern California Edison’s $1.3 billion, 537.5 MW/2,150 MWh storage project with Ameresco recently found itself in a bit of limbo due to Chinese lockdowns, permitting challenges, and supply-chain issues. However, Ameresco did indicate this week that, despite these setbacks, the company expects that 200-to-300 MW of project capacity will be in service in September, and total project completion is expected by the end of this year. Regardless, “all benefitting customers” are on the hook for this project’s not-insignificant costs.
Edison’s Tehachapi storage project deserves some scrutiny too. SCE recently received authority to decommission this $30 million research demonstration project, in part because continuing risk-mitigation maintenance efforts would be cost-prohibitive.
Expect storage installations in California to continue at breakneck speeds, though. California’s three major electric utilities (Edison, PG&E, and SDG&E) have almost completely met their combined storage procurement target of 1,325 MW, which was mandated in 2013. And a CPUC decision from last winter anticipated a buildout of 14,000 MW of storage from now through 2032. More is on the way.
Part of me respects this aggressive experimentation in California, and part of me finds it unconscionably reckless. In a few years we’ll have a definitive answer as to which descriptor is most applicable.