“Staggering” Energy Storage News From California

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This organization called Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) just crossed our radar, and since its membership includes SolarCity, GE, Microsoft, Philips, Verizon, and a few score other corporate sluggers we’re going to pick apart some energy storage news it passed along last week. Specifically, AEE is all excited over a “staggering” 2,221 MW energy buy just announced by the utility Southern California Edison, which includes a 250 MW energy storage buy described as the biggest of its kind ever purchased by a utility.

So, what is this impressive energy storage system?

Advancion energy storage for California
Advancion energy system (screenshot, cropped) courtesy of AES.

A Huge Energy Buy, Not Necessarily Clean…

Let’s note up front that Southern California Edison’s new 2,221 MW energy buy is not particularly a clean energy buy. It includes a healthy dose of natural gas to replace the benighted San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

The new natural gas contracts are also needed to replace several existing, outdated natural gas plants. These are coastal facilities that were designed to rely on seawater for cooling, killing innumerable small fish and plankton in the process.

So, file this one under A for ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Although new gas tech is a great improvement over old gas tech, to say nothing of an aging nuclear power plant with serious safety issues, the natural gas fracking issue is still a live one (that includes some emerging financial issues as well as environmental ones, btw).

…So Don’t Get Too Excited About This Energy Storage Thing

In that context, let’s take a closer look at the energy storage component of SCE’s new buy. While we tend to fangirl over energy storage as the solution to intermittent energy sources (namely, wind and solar), given the new investments in natural gas it appears that SCE is taking a more holistic approach.

 

The 250 MW energy storage buy does not apply to a single system. Instead, it is spread out among four companies (SCE also provides a handy rundown of all the contracts, btw).

AES won big with a 100 MW contract, which we assume will involve the utility scale, centralized grid energy storage system it calls Advancion. The system is based on pre-qualified batteries and proprietary control software.

AES, not by coincidence we assume, was also the biggest winner by far in the overall energy buy, winning 1,284 MW of the 2,221 total for two contracts involving combined cycle gas fired energy generation.

According to our friends over at Bloomberg News, the meat of the Advancion system currently consists of lithium-ion batteries supplied by LG Chem Ltd.

The next big winner was Stem, with two contracts toting up to 85 MW. Don’t look for this company’s energy storage facility to sprout up where you can see it, though. The “storage” consists of an advanced energy management system that helps shave down peak use needs. Here’s the lowdown from stem:

The company’s solution requires no changes to customer operations and offers unparalleled energy insights, allowing a comprehensive view into past, present and future energy use. As demands on the grid continue to increase, Stem’s system enables good energy citizenship and unlocks the potential for expanded renewable energy integration.
Another 50 MW went to a company called Advanced Microgrid Solutions, which is marketing something it calls Hybrid-Electric Buildings:
AMS’s Hybrid-Electric BuildingsTM Project deploys large networks of battery systems in targeted buildings where electric utilities need grid support. AMS can seamlessly shift an entire fleet of buildings from grid power to battery power providing real time support to the electric grid.
Rounding out the four is Ice Energy Holdings, Inc. As the name implies, its 16 contracts apparently involve a system it calls Ice Bear, which makes ice at night during off-peak hours, for use in cooling during the day.

Nvm, It’s Still Exciting

Although the natural gas issue puts a damper on things, when you add up those four companies you can see the significance of the new buy. Navigant Research, which calls the “sheer scale” of SCE’s announcement “staggering,” also notes that SCE was only expected to procure 50 MW in energy storage, making the 250 MW buy a huge surprise.

The key is that instead of putting all the energy storage eggs into a single, centralized basket, SCE spread the goodies out among a range of options that include utility scale storage along with distributed solutions including on site storage and advanced energy management.

The end result is that SCE got hold of the biggest energy storage buy for the lowest cost, adding up to what Navigant calls the biggest purchase of energy storage by a utility, aside from pumped hydro systems.

Navigant also notes that due to California’s new energy storage requirements, you’re going to see a rush on similar options by other utilities in the state, so stay tuned.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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