Tesla Powerpack gets an SCE boost

Tesla makes its mark in California's fast growing energy storage market.
Published: Fri 30 Sep 2016

While demand for Tesla’s Powerwall home batteries apparently continues unabated, the company has received what is arguably its highest profile commission to date for the utility and business Powerpack unit.

This will be a 20MW/80MWh system, which will be supplied to Southern California Edison (SCE) at the company’s Mira Loma substation in Ontario, to the east of Los Angeles. For a period at least, the system is set to be the largest lithium ion storage installation in the world.

Accelerated storage mandate

The solicitation is in response to a California Public Utilities Commission mandated accelerated energy storage procurement for the technology to support regional network reliability following the Aliso Canyon natural gas spill last October. That event – slated as the worst of its kind in US history, in which about 730,000kg of methane leaked into the atmosphere – has resulted in a winding down of the facility, which has been supplying natural gas to generators in the Los Angeles Basin.

The Tesla battery system is required to be in operation by the end of the year. This will be achieved by “the Gigafactory's ability to produce at a large scale,” according to a Tesla statement, allowing “this system to be manufactured, shipped, installed and commissioned in three months.” [Engerati-Tesla’s Gigafactory - all about scale]

SCE is no stranger to the Tesla battery system and was one of the pioneer utilities to pilot the technology in two separate demonstrations when it was announced in May 2015. [Engerati-Tesla Batteries Trial In US] Among its other activities Tesla is supplying Powerpack units to Advanced Microgrid Solutions - the latest project a 7MW/34MWh network for Irvin Ranch Water District in California.

The Powerpack units have a peak power of 50kW and capacity of 100kWh and are “infinitely scalable,” the company states on its website.

New energy storage projects

Besides the Tesla project, SCE has another similar size 20MW/80MWh storage project on the go at its Pomona gas facility. The project, which was announced last month, is being developed by AltaGas Ltd and Greensmith and has been expedited for an end of year completion.

While SCE was the only utility mandated under the accelerated procurement, it isn’t the only one to deploy storage in response. At the time San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) was advanced with its storage procurements and suggested to the PUC that it could accelerate its efforts. Last month SDG&E announced two new storage projects totalling 37.5MW in San Diego County to come online in early 2017.

The systems, which will be supplied by AES, are a 30MW/120MWh facility in Escondido and a 7.5MW/30MWh facility in El Cajon. Like the SCE deployment the batteries will charge during off-peak times and when there is an abundance of solar or wind power and deliver power back to the grid during peak usage times such as in the early evening.

Energy storage in California

Besides its size the Tesla procurement is significant in contributing both to an acceleration of storage in California and to demonstrating its potential to contribute to meeting peak demand in place of traditional gas-fired plants.

In the case of the Tesla project in particular, the timeframe is notable and for example is about half the length of the SDG&E projects. In turn the timeframe of these is about a third of that to bring on line a gas fired plant.

On top of its landmark legislation which has led to California becoming a leader in energy storage, four further bills have just been signed that give further impetus to the technology. These are AB 1637, which increases the Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) funding by $249 million; AB 2868, which requires the PUC to direct California’s three investor owned utilities (IOUs) to accelerate the deployment of up to 500MW of storage; AB 2861, which authorizes creation of a dispute resolution for behind-the-meter energy resources attempting to interconnect to an IOU's electricity distribution network and AB 33, which calls for evaluation of long duration bulk energy storage in renewable integration.

Described by Janice Lin, executive director of the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) and chair of Energy Storage North America, as “groundbreaking bills,” they “further enable energy storage to become a valued piece of the mainstream energy toolkit.”

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