Advancing the energy storage deployment California needs: CESA interview

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This year, Solar Power International and Energy Storage International, two of the biggest shows in the US for their respective industries, are taking place in California under a new brand, called RE+ 2022.

Energy-Storage.news is at the event this week in the city of Anaheim. While it is both a national and very international exhibition and conference, we considered it a good opportunity to learn about the progress California has made as a leading state for energy storage – and the challenges it faces in its energy transition.

Jin Noh, a policy director at the California Energy Storage Alliance (CESA) and director at Strategen Consulting, spoke to the site on the eve of the show.

CESA is focusing on three or four main initiatives to advance the deployment of energy storage the state needs, Noh says, with the recent heatwaves showing just how important a role batteries already play in helping keep California’s lights on.

That means working to overcome challenges in getting projects permitted and interconnected to the grid, negotiating supply chain issues and more. Sometimes this will mean getting down into the weeds of policy and advocating for changes like its recent win over property zoning rules.

“Our focus is really on deployment. The heat wave clearly demonstrated that storage really did well and performed on the margins to provide anywhere from 3,000 to 3,500 megawatts of operating capacity during each of those days,” Noh says.

However, there have also been well-publicised delays in getting new storage facilities onto the CAISO grid in California, for which there have been a “multitude of sources”.

For instance, a lot of the most recent delays tracked by Jin Noh and his team have been for solar-plus-storage projects, rather than standalone battery storage. This is because of the recent uncertainty over US trade tariffs for imported solar modules, amid claims that Chinese forced labour has been involved, with subsequent alleged attempts to circumvent tariffs by routing production through Southeast Asian supply chains.

Whereas for standalone energy storage, it’s a more “case-by-case” picture. In some cases, lockdowns in China have led to battery containers or other major components like transformers being stranded at ports, in others it can be long interconnection wait times.

Impacted companies are “most likely renegotiating some of their contract,” according to the CESA expert, especially if they are running a risk of missing guaranteed delivery dates for project completions or development milestones. Some developers might seek an extension to the delivery date in exchange for a reduction in the agreed power purchase agreement (PPA) price, for example, explaining to their customers that the circumstances faced are unprecedented.

Need for long-duration and even multi-day storage is clear for California

CESA and Strategen together have long advocated that the role long-duration energy storage (LDES) will play in California’s low carbon grid of the future needs to be recognised quickly so that investment decisions impacting the next 10 to 20 years or more of development can start to be made. A study from the two modelled a potential need for up to 55GW of LDES on the CAISO grid by 2045.

“The need for long-duration storage is clear in my mind,” Noh says.

How much exactly is needed remains subject to inputs and assumptions at the modelling level but, nonetheless, Noh said many regulators, legislators and buyers and sellers of technology are all clear that the basic need will become acute as California reaches ever-higher levels of renewable energy penetration on the grid.

“Right now, what we’re focusing on is: how do we commercialise these [LDES] technologies?”

At state level, policy support has been offered by California’s governor, Gavin Newsom including US$140 million of funding for LDES technologies in the state’s most recently passed legislative package on clean energy. At national level, CESA hopes some of the Department of Energy’s US$500 million funding for LDES demonstrations will find its way to projects in California.

“The key question now comes to [be], how do we commercialise LDES? What will bring financiers, insurance folks, to start investing in these technologies, and to be comfortable? What’s the level of operational track record that’s needed, so that we can start getting these things actually deployed?”

Famously, a group of California community energy providers – so-called Community Choice Aggregators – hosted first-of-its-kind RfPs for LDES, seeking eight-hour duration storage projects.

The result was the selection of two long duration lithium-ion battery energy storage system (BESS) projects, which surprised some people. The expectation had been that some emerging non-lithium alternative might be picked.

As we heard in our February interview with the CEO of one of those CCAs, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, the energy suppliers received proposals with a wide range of technologies including different types of flow batteries, zinc-based batteries and mechanical storage like compressed air.

Reasons behind lithium projects being selected were “nuanced,” and didn’t necessarily mean lithium had “beaten” the other technologies, SVCE’s Girish Balachandran said, with the grid likely to need many different kinds of energy storage to meet California’s needs.

However, Jin Noh said that from his own conversations with some of the people involved, the selection of lithium-ion projects indicated that to some extent the commercialisation gap still very much exists between the most popular electrochemical energy storage technology today and its various alternative long-duration contenders.

CESA’s work in this area is focusing on bridging that gap, helping tech providers overcome the dreaded “Valley of Death” and get their technology operational in the field, not just at lab or pilot deployment level.

“Being grid-connected, responding to ISO (grid) dispatch signals, having real performance guarantees under a contract: I think that is the tipping point to actually having these things widely deployed, and then having them just be procured on an all-source, day-to-day RFP basis,” Noh says.

Earlier this week, a team from LDES startup Form Energy blogged for this site on California’s emergent need for long-duration (more than eight-hour duration) and multi-day (more than one day’s duration) energy storage.

Noh says that the recent heatwave showed that that need might come sooner rather than later. One interesting learning that he got came towards the latter stage of the events in the second week of September.

Solar PV generation dropped quite significantly due to factors like smoke from wildfires and imminent hurricane conditions. A usual 13GW of solar production on the grid became 8GW.

“As we look to depend on a grid that’s heavily solar, heavily renewable, it’s kind of highlighting how we probably need to look at this more closely, as to how much do we need multi day [storage]? How do we develop products so that, we hold those for those days and deliver it?”

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