By 2021, Los Angeles could be a pioneer in fighting climate change. Up to now, energy use in the Los Angeles area relies on a so-called “peaker” power plant in Long Beach that uses natural gas to make up for increased demand during summer afternoons, when residents usually crank up the AC to deal with the heat. As locals arrive home from work and turn on their AC units, TVs and computers, the peaker plant in Long Beach is there to take on the extra load.
But if current plans succeed, within five years the peaker plant could be a thing of the past, replaced by the world’s largest battery, capable of storing and delivering more than 100 megawatts of power for four hours. Instead of using natural gas to meet peak afternoon demand, the battery will charge with solar power during the morning. Early in the next morning, the battery will be ready for another peak in electricity demand when resident wake up and turn on their appliances. The early morning charge will come from wind turbines which operate throughout the night. The AES mega-battery project will even out peak hours and prevent blackouts.
The plans for all of this to happen are now in place because California’s Public Utilities Commission have set targets requiring utilities to increase their energy storage capacity, use more renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050. Southern California Edison Company picked AES Corporation out of 1,800 competitors for the contract to build the battery and replace the natural gas peaker plant in Long Beach, marking the first time that an energy storage device won a bidding competition against a conventional power plant.
AES has spent nine years working with electric-car battery makers and has the experience to link massive arrays of lithium-ion batteries. Once the Long Beach facility is complete, it will have 18,000 battery modules. But the mega-battery will not be up and running for another five years, and Southern California needs more energy storage capacity today.
Energy officials warn that Southern California could see as many as 14 days of scheduled blackouts during the summer because the Porter Ranch natural gas storage facility is still out-of-commission after a leak earlier in the year. The result is that a lot of public utilities see an immediate need to increase their energy storage capacity.
Older natural gas and coal power plants can no longer compete with cheaper solar and wind power, which is leading power plant owners to shut them down, leaving more and more gaps in the grid. The increasing demand for electric vehicles is also driving down the cost of batteries, which is helping make mega-battery projects more affordable.
The supply is there, but also the demand. The aging energy grid is less able to handle the sudden spikes of demand and changes of voltage, which makes energy storage facilities necessary.
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(all data current as of 5/27/2017)
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