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California’s storable energy problem

The state of California has been suffering from periodic electricity shortfalls for quite a while now. The state’s management has decided that a considerable upgrade in its battery provision’s storage capability is necessary to overcome these difficulties. This will also help towards the state’s climate change targets of becoming energy neutral.

This upgrade will cost the state upwards of twenty billion dollars, and there is a further problem of the infrastructure to deliver cells of this size being in its infancy.

The increasing number of blackouts has been caused by the conversion to electricity of many households previously powered by gas. A large drive to renewables has also taken place in this timespan. The question of the storage of the electricity needed during the inevitable renewable downtime has been somewhat ignored.

The sun doesn’t always shine when you need it

Recent unusual weather fluctuations in the state have seen the thermometers soar, and with these high temperatures comes a greater demand as Californians crank up their air-con units. Peak demand coincides with people getting home from work; usually just as solar renewables effectiveness is dropping. If there were a plentiful supply of backup storage capability, this would not be such a problem. But the lack of such capacity is a significant problem, an issue that will not be solved easily or cheaply.

To cope with the predicted demand for electricity, it is estimated that at least 12 Gigawatts of cell storage would be needed to even out the peaks and troughs of demand. At the last count, California only had access to 500 megawatts of cell capacity. It is easy to see the discrepancy between what is needed and what is available.

In fact, in the year 2020, only 4.6 GW of battery storage was predicted to come online, and so some serious decisions are needed about battery development going forward.

There are some ongoing developments of mass cell storage projects already commissioned, but many more will be needed. One of the state’s great success stories has been the massive transition to renewable forms of energy that has already been undertaken. The rest of the United States will, no doubt, be looking on with great interest as California grapples with the issue of how to store these renewable sources. The perennial problem is solar power providing peak energy in the early afternoon, with peak energy need being much later in the day. Add to this the variation of power generation, mainly due to weather conditions’ vagaries – the sun doesn’t always shine when you want it, and the wind doesn’t always blow when you need it.

Political pressures increase the need for battery storage

Pressure from the federal government to hit CO2 neutral emissions by 2035, at the latest, add to California’s problems. The use of batteries is seen as the crux of the solution with energy storage issues. But this is still an industry very much in its infancy, with less than 2 per cent of the state’s energy stored in such a way in the preceding years.

As has already been noted, jumping from California’s present storage capacity to the recommended twelve GW will be a significant infrastructural programme, and this will not be completed overnight by any means. The apparent matter of where to place these huge cell storage facilities has not been without significant problems.

With strong political commitments to increase California’s capability to harness renewable energy has come a rapidly growing demand for energy. This is a situation that will require a massive investment in battery storage capability.

The ongoing issues that have seen large parts of the state having to endure electricity shortfalls are sure to concentrate minds on the task. It is also an opportunity for developers of these mass battery storage systems to present the case for these vast operations.

The race for lucrative contracts has already begun, with lots of players in the energy storage field looking to get the go-ahead for new developments.

It is necessary to consider the scale of the task ahead to meet the expected demand for California’s storage needs. Tesla’s green car manufacturer produces the required twelve GW in one of its massive Gigafactory’s, which is a huge undertaking. There is an enormous level of investment and work to bring similar amounts of storage online. At present Li-ion batteries are the only suitable cells for such large projects. But the demand for Li-on cells has rapidly increased, and California is not the only potential customer. The rush to renewables has led to other countries having similar issues with the shortfall for generation not always meeting demand. This is still a developing industry, so innovations are often in the pipeline.

Electric cars – increasing demand

California has another generation issue that is most likely to get worse. The rush to develop motor vehicles that run on clean energy as opposed to fossil fuels has also increased the demand for new technological developments in cell storage.

Although with all this emphasis on battery storage, there are other potential answers to these problems. Perhaps battery storage is not the only possible solution. The use of hydrogen in power stations has emerged in the post-fossil fuel era. It is possible to harness the extra power produced at electricity generation stations and turn it into a hydrogen source that can then be used to power homes/factories.

Battery storage for the foreseeable future

Using renewable forms of electricity to power, the nations of the earth will only grow exponentially. Still, a significant snag is that these processing plants are often far from major conurbations. It is here that battery storage solutions, for the time being, offer superior solutions to their current competitors. The space needed for cell storage is much less than alternative sources, and they can be safely placed much closer to population centres.

This ability to be situated closer to population centres will prove crucial when incidents impact a community’s electricity usage. The extra electricity stored in the batteries will be easily accessible and sent down the grid to where it is needed. The need to have extra supplies of energy readily available will be paramount, as will the growth of extensive battery storage facilities.

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