Stepping on the gas: Can solar-plus-storage turn the tide in the US?

Stepping on the gas: Can solar-plus-storage turn the tide in the US?

With coal on its way out and decarbonisation across many parts of the US now an integral part of state level policies, could the demise of natural gas be the next step? Gas is seen by many as an interim solution in the energy transition and provides flexibility to energy networks that have adopted a greater share of renewables, but the tide could be turning against this last great dinosaur of the fossil age.

Tom Buttgenbach, CEO of developer 8minute Solar Energy, says that projects such as his company’s Eland Solar & Storage Centre, currently being constructed in the Mojave Desert in California, pairing 400MWac of solar PV with 300MW / 1,200MWh demonstrate both the “cost and reliability advantages in pairing solar with storage”.

“For the first time ever, solar paired with storage is not just lower cost but also more reliable than fossil fuel power plants,” Buttgenbach says.

Not only has the Eland project achieved the lowest cost solar-plus-storage power purchase agreement (PPA) in history, costing less than fossil fuel generation (under US$20 per MWh for solar and under US$40 per MWh combined with batteries) but the 8minute CEO points out that projects such as Eland “offer 98% to 99% reliability - much higher than a gas plant in the mid-80% range”.

“Our solar-plus-storage power plants can come online in a fraction of a second, compared to several minutes for a gas plant and can be optimised to deliver a range of flexible grid services depending on what a utility needs.”

“Eland, for example, with a record-high capacity factor of 60% during the summer months, will be able to dispatch power during the day and well into the evening and night – and will do so with existing transmission. By using existing transmission capacity more efficiently, our Eland plant will deliver low-cost renewable energy to Los Angeles quickly and is helping avoid multi-year, multi-billion dollar investments in new infrastructure.”

Meanwhile, the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and the US’ re-entry into the Paris Agreement could mean a policy landscape much less favourable to all fossil fuels, Jeff Bishop, CEO of battery storage developer Key Capture Energy says.

“The Clean Power Plan under the Obama Administration really drove utilities to rethink their entire playbooks. Overnight, no utility board was willing to sign-off on a new coal plant when there was not a clear path to long-term cost recovery. Similar motivations - political or regulatory - could take place in the next few years, effectively removing new natural gas plants from the utility integrated resource planning framework. I am unsure what form this will take in the next four years, but it’s quite clear that changes at the federal, regional, and state level are further accelerating the clean energy transition”.

Cover image: Rendering of 8minute’s Eland Solar & Storage Center in California. Image: 8minute Solar Energy. 

This is an extract from 'US energy storage in 2021: Notes from a maturing industry,' a feature article which appears in full in the latest edition of our quarterly technical journal, PV Tech Power (Vol.25), in 'Storage & Smart Power', the dedicated section contributed by the team at Energy-Storage.news. To download the entire article as an individual paper, or to subscribe to or download the entire 89-page book, visit the PV Tech Store

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