Pacific Gas and Electric has released plans to build four battery storage facilities in and around Moss Landing, Calif., including one that would be the largest in the world.
Let’s start with that big one: The utility is working with Vistra Energy to build a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery system that would be capable of operating for four hours before needing to recharge. That means the project could produce 1.2 gigawatt-hours in a day, which is much more than any other project currently operating or close to being built.
The current record-holder is Tesla’s project in South Australia, which opened late last year and can produce 129 megawatt-hours, or about one-ninth of the Vistra project’s output.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Janice Lin, a Berkeley energy consultant who co-founded the Global Energy Storage Alliance and the California Energy Storage Alliance, two of the leading storage advocacy groups.
Here’s the larger significance: Battery storage will need to dramatically expand as the country reduces dependence on fossil fuels and uses more wind and solar. The Moss Landing projects are an essential step toward remaking the grid to rely heavily on batteries.
Lin told me that there was little doubt that lithium-ion battery systems can work at this scale.
“It is a very big battery, but it’s definitely not a crazy idea,” she said. “It’s just a larger version of successful projects we’ve seen deployed to date.”
Battery storage projects are designed to be modular and scalable, she said. She thinks this project will serve as an example to be emulated by many others, across the United States and around the world.
All told, the four storage facilities in the PG&E plan for the Moss Landing area would add up to more than 2 gigawatt-hours.
PG&E has submitted its proposal to the California Public Utilities Commission and is asking for a decision within 90 days. If approved, the storage systems could be online by 2021, which is a rapid turnaround considering the scale.
Texas-based Vistra is a diversified energy company whose assets run the gamut from coal-fired power plants to renewable power projects.
“The Moss Landing battery project will be the largest of its kind in the world and will position Vistra as a market leader in utility-scale battery development,” said Curt Morgan, Vistra’s president and CEO, in a statement. “This project is consistent with Vistra’s strategy to opportunistically invest in new technologies in support of the changing energy supply landscape.”
Why Build Storage There, and Why Now?
To understand how we got here with the PG&E plan, we need to go back to January, when the California Public Utilities Commission voted to require the company to solicit bids for storage. The commission’s goal is to use renewable resources to replace the capacity of three fossil fuel plants in the region.
The three plants, all owned by Calpine, are known as “peakers,” which means they ramp up and down for a few hours at a time to meet demand on the hottest days of the year. The commission would like it if the region had other options for meeting peak demand, which would hasten the closing of the peakers.
Moss Landing is a small fishing community on Monterey Bay between Santa Cruz and Monterey. Among its landmarks are the two stacks at the Moss Landing Power Plant, a natural gas-fired plant that has been there since 1950. It remains operational and is a key part of the region’s power supply, unlike the much smaller peakers.
Interesting side notes: The Moss Landing gas plant is owned by Dynegy, an energy company that is in the process of being purchased by Vistra. Also, the storage plant would use the grid connections that are already in place to serve part of the gas plant that is no longer operating, which helps to reduce costs.
This rapid turn of events, with the commission’s resolution and PG&E’s response, shows how California is kind of its own world when it comes to advancing clean energy technologies.
One unanswered question: How much is this all going to cost? PG&E says it needs a total of $80.2 million to cover the costs of the Moss Landing plant in 2021 and 2022, but does not estimate what the total costs would be over the life of the project.
Super-Size Storage in Moss Landing, by Dan Gearino, Clean Economy Weekly, July 2018.