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‘100% renewable is 100% doable’ for California, storage industry insider says

Edison International’s J Andrew Murphy and NPYA’s Gil Quinones onstage at the opening address session.

The goal of reaching 100% renewable electricity in California is “100% doable”, the chief commercial officer of zinc bromine flow battery maker Primus Power told at Solar Power International/Energy Storage International.

The opening address and a handful of sessions took place Monday at Anaheim Convention Center, California. While the two shows are national and international, it is expected there will be a great deal of attention paid to the state’s SB100 bill, signed into law recently by Governor Jerry Brown which demands all retail electricity by 2045 comes from renewable sources.

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The role of energy storage in that is expected to be a big part of that. Jorg Heinemann, CCO of Primus Power and just a few years ago in charge of utility-scale solar projects at SunPower. A resident of Northern California, Heinemann said he is “thrilled” that his home state is gunning for such an ambitious and forward-thinking target.

However, as a residential solar PV owner, Heinemann said he had few incentives to install a battery at home, since California still has net metering policies in place, rewarding solar generation with high retail rates of buyback from the grid.

“California is a net metering state so financially it’s almost stupid to put a battery in. I can spin the meter backwards and get retail rates. In Germany [where the feed-in tariff has closed], they have to consume it, store it or lose it. 100% renewables for California is 100% doable, but there are some policy questions and things lower down that need to be solved.”

The Primus Power CCO claimed business for his company’s systems, larger scale, long duration flow batteries – among the flow systems from four providers recently profiled in this feature article – has been brisk. As with Hugh McDermott, VP for sales of ESS Inc, another of those companies profiled and who we also spoke to outside SPI on Monday, Heinemann said orders and enquiries have been building up in quantity and scale.

McDermott said ESS, which makes patented iron electrolyte flow batteries, said watching utilities across America go from procuring storage systems using lithium batteries at a maximum of two hours’ storage duration in the past to procuring two, four and then six hour lithium-ion systems this year has been a huge step-change. According to McDermott, ESS has seen this shift coming, but not for two more years, claiming serious enquiries have been made for batteries that are over 100MW and therefore 400MWh at four hours’ duration.

Similarly, Heinemann of Primus Power said inbound sales enquiries, i.e. enquiries from customers that proactively seek out Primus, add up to US$1.2 billion in “pure battery sales”, with the company’s business model squarely focused on equipment supply.

“[It’s] the best demand signal of inbound opportunities – customers calling us with proposals. Typically they want to do solar-plus-storage. That US$1.2 billion pipeline is battery sales.”

In the meantime, the long duration shift appears to be on, Heinemann said, Primus needs to focus on the projects already under development, of which it has around 10, adding up to 6MW worldwide.

“Our primary focus is to get those done,” he said.

Climate, cooperation vs competition and the commercial space

Taking place yesterday late afternoon was the opening address and welcoming sessions. Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) president and CEO Julia Hamm led an assembled panel of utility and industry execs through a discussion which touched on some of the biggest topics facing the US – and wider – electric industry and power markets today.

Fighting climate change, the importance of cooperation over competition between distributed energy resources (DERs) providers, the need in the US to work towards regional and state goals as well as national or multilateral initiatives and the role of the private sector in migrating towards clean energy were all identified as hot topics facing the energy sector today.

New York Power Authority CEO and president Gil Quinones said that governments, communities and non-profit organisations should lead the way and set an example for others in being bold and committing to clean energy technology and projects.

Quinones called for an “open innovation approach” across the industry, while Edison International VP for strategy and corporate development J. Andrew Murphy said that the private sector has a great role to play in the energy transition, highlighting that as much as 12% of PPAs signed today for renewables come from corporate offtakers. Murphy and others said that the commercial and industrial (C&I) opportunity is rich and that the industry’s various stakeholders should work together to help businesses, whose core business is not in energy services or energy management, to digitise, clean and modernise their energy systems.

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