What was that again about the unreliability of wind and solar energy? Some energy experts are still throwing the old ball around, but savvy investors are now pouring billions into new energy storage devices that spit out clean kilowatts when needed. As they say, money speaks, and fittingly, the latest example comes from the Golden State of California.
Massive new energy storage facility for the Golden State
California has both wind and solar power and has an ambitious renewable energy destination, making it the perfect place to start ambitious clean energy projects like massive new energy storage.
California is also the perfect place to demonstrate how existing, climate-damaging fossil fuel sites can quickly become sites for climate protection. After all, despite its image as an environmentalist, the state has played a key role in the US fossil fuel economy. It’s dotted with oil and gas wells, as well as fossil fuel power plants and existing transmission lines, and some of them are ripe for harvest by clean energy investors.
One example of this is the new energy storage system. The diversified energy company Vistra is behind the project. You put it as a the largest battery storage his kind, and they’re not kidding.
The facility in Moss Landing, near Monterey, California, started operations in 2020 and an expansion has just been completed that increases its capacity to 400 megawatts or 1,600 megawatt hours, depending on who counts and why. According to Vistra, the expansion catapulted Moss Landing into the world record area.
This is nothing. So far, work on the first two phases has progressed ahead of schedule, and Vistra is looking forward to a further expansion that will bring the plant to 1,500 megawatts, i.e. 6,000 megawatt hours.
For those of you who can score at home, the State of California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, LG Energy Solution, and engineering and construction company Burns & McDonnell are also involved in the project.
The Moss Landing energy storage project is a good start …
Land use issues are already threatening to slow the transition to clean energy, so any use of existing energy-related sites is a benefit that accelerates the transition to clean electricity. Large-scale battery systems such as the Moss Landing project enable more wind and solar development in the grid, so that the effects extend far beyond the location.
Curt Morgan, CEO of Vistra, explains, “The great thing about this particular site is that it has enough space to support even further expansion – up to 1,500 MW / 6,000 MWh – while also supporting our existing site infrastructure, including existing transmission lines and network connections, to be used responsibly. “
The battery array is housed in an existing turbine building on the site, which is almost as long as three soccer fields. So imagine if all these batteries were dug up a habitat for pollinators instead of occupying pre-made space.
What was previously on the site, Moss Landing has a fossil fuel family tree of historic proportions. The story began in 1950 when a power plant built by Pacific Gas & Electric went into operation. PG&E was the whole story for nearly 50 years, until a series of deals from Duke Energy to LS General Finance to Dynegy Moss Landing landed in Vistra’s lap in 1998 through a merger with Dynegy in 2018.
Vistra has received a lot of good press for the Moss Landing energy storage system, which is among its Vista Zero Branch. Other energy storage projects in California and Texas, where Vistra Zero also makes a lot of solar. They also include the 2,300-megawatt Comanche Peak nuclear power plant in Texas, built in the 1990s, among their zero-emission facilities, although an annoying fire at the facility caused some red flags related to stowage all your energy eggs in one basket. At the moment, the two blocks of the plant are scheduled to be shut down between 2030 and 2033.
… But Vistra has a long line to hack
On the other hand, the Moss Landing energy storage project is part of a broader plan to use batteries to store electricity from fossil sources in addition to wind and sun for at least as long as fossils keep the grid running.
In this regard, Vistra has a lot to do and little time before the climate whistler has to be paid. The Moss Landing power plant is dwarfed by the holdings of the Vistra subsidiary Luminant, which has a generation capacity of 39,000 megawatts in 12 states, including Comanche Peak.
The Luminant portfolio contains some solar energy, but as of 2019, its solar inventories have barely been recorded on a pie chart. Natural gas and coal still share the throne, while nuclear power holds a somewhat thick sliver.
Nevertheless, Vista’s interest in wind power came along in a nice clip, and other signs of a sharp increase in renewable energy activities have grown this year, spurred in part by resolving a complaint from the Sierra Club. The settlement includes the closure of Vistra’s Joppa coal and gas power plant in Illinois and gives the company the opportunity to campaign for the proposed Illinois Coal to Solar and Energy Storage Act.
If passed, the bill would help support Vistra’s plans to convert several other coal-fired power plants in Illinois to renewable energy. The company has already allocated $ 550 million for the effort, which would total nine locations, 300 megawatts of solar capacity, and 175 megawatts of battery storage. Vistra plans a similar fate for its coal-fired power plants in Ohio.
If you think the Joppa grounds will soon be plastered with solar panels, guess again. Apparently the site is not suitable for conversion to utility-scale solar power. Instead, a 45-megawatt battery will be used there, which is sufficient to supply around 22,500 typical households.
Beyond batteries for long-term energy storage
That number of 22,500 homes sounds impressive, but the big question is how long. Battery-type energy storage systems typically only last a few hours. This is sufficient to supply a network with electricity during peak load times without having to purchase additional fossil energy capacities, typically in the form of natural gas. However, four hours are nowhere near enough to replace all of the existing “top” systems.
Our friends at Power magazine recently cited a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory which suggests that about 150 gigawatts of capacity of peak fossil fuel power plants will retire over the next 20 years. Battery-like energy storage devices could only replace around 28 of these gigawatts in a four-hour scenario.
To replace the rest it will take something that will last more than four hours or so. The US Department of Energy is hammering on the problem as part of its DAYS.Duration added to power storage“Program. The acronym is a bit tedious, and so is the aspiration. DAYS is looking for at least 10 hours of energy storage, preferably 100 hours or more.”
Given the condition of the battery storage systems, that may sound like a tough nut to crack. However, pumped storage power plants are already proof that it is possible. The problem with pumped storage power plants is the limited choice of location.
Flow batteries are another water-based option that allows for a much wider range of uses. The water is contained in tanks and the whole thing can be packed into a relatively small container or a larger system, depending on the application.
Another option is to apply the gravity-based fundamentals of pumped hydropower to solid objects rather than water.
An interesting mashup in this area is the company Energy safe, which is considering using recycled wind turbine blades in a gravity-based storage system that resembles a side ferris wheel.
The compressed air storage field is also growing and growing, so keep that in mind, along with thermal systems and other interesting storage solutions.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Energy Storage Moss Landing courtesy of Vistra.
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