What was it about wind and solar power being unreliable? Some energy experts are still throwing that old ball, but meanwhile savvy investors are investing billions in new energy storage facilities that spew clean kilowatts on demand. As they say, money speaks, and in a fitting twist, the latest example comes from Golden State, California.
New massive energy storage facility for the Golden State
California has a lot of wind and solar power, and it also has an ambitious renewable energy target, making it the perfect place to launch ambitious clean energy projects such as massive new storage facilities. of energy.
California is also the perfect place to demonstrate how existing fossil fuel sites that kill climate can quickly turn into sites of climate action. After all, the state has played a key role in America’s fossil fuel industry, despite its image as an environmental warrior. It’s riddled with oil and gas wells in addition to existing fossil power plants and transmission lines, and some of them are ripe for choice by clean energy investors.
The new energy storage facility is one example. The diversified energy company Vistra is behind the project. They’re touting it as the biggest battery-type storage facility of its kind, and they’re not kidding.
Located at Moss Landing near Monterey, Calif., The facility started in 2020 and has just completed an expansion, bringing its capacity to 400 megawatts or 1,600 megawatt hours, depending on who counts and why. According to Vistra, the expansion propelled Moss Landing into world record territory.
It’s nothing. So far, work on the first two phases has progressed ahead of schedule and Vistra looks forward to another expansion that will bring the plant to 1,500 megawatts, which translates to 6,000 megawatt hours.
For those of you keeping the score at home, the State of California, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, LG Energy Solution, and engineering and construction company Burns & McDonnell also participated in the project.
The Moss Landing energy storage project is a good start …
Land use issues are already threatening to slow the clean energy transition, so any use of existing energy-related sites is a benefit that helps accelerate the transition to clean energy. Large-scale battery installations such as the Moss Landing project allow more wind and solar development on the grid, so the impact ripples far beyond the site itself.
Vistra CEO Curt Morgan explains that “the great thing about this particular site is that it has the space to support even further expansion – up to 1,500 MW / 6,000 MWh – while responsibly using our existing site infrastructure, including existing transmission lines and grid interconnection.
The battery array is housed inside an existing turbine building at the site, which is almost as long as three football fields, so imagine if all those batteries involved digging a habitat for pollinators instead of occupy a pre-built space.
As for what has been on the site before, Moss Landing has a fossil fuel pedigree of historic dimensions. The story began in 1950, when a power plant built by Pacific Gas & Electric came into service. PG&E was history for almost 50 years, until 1998, when a series of deals from Duke Energy to LS General Finance in Dynegy landed Moss Landing in Vistra’s knees, thanks to a merger in 2018. with Dynegy.
Vistra has had a lot of good press for the Moss Landing energy storage facility, which falls under its Vistra Zero branch. Other energy storage projects are underway in California and Texas, where Vistra Zero also does a lot of solar. They also count the 2,300-megawatt, Texas, 1990s-era Comanche Peak nuclear power plant among its zero-emission assets, although an annoying fire at the facility has raised red flags regarding the storage. of all your energy eggs in one basket. At the time of this writing, both units at the plant are expected to be decommissioned between 2030 and 2033.
… But Vistra has a long row to hoe
On the negative side, the Moss Landing energy storage project is part of a larger plan to leverage batteries to store electricity from fossil sources in addition to wind and solar, at least. as long as the fossils fuel the grid.
In that regard, Vistra has a long way to go and not long before the bagpiper is due to be paid. Moss Landing’s power facility is eclipsed by holdings of Luminant, a subsidiary of Vistra, which has 39,000 megawatts of generating capacity in 12 states, including Comanche Peak.
Luminant’s portfolio includes solar, but as of 2019 its solar holdings were barely recorded on a pie chart. Natural gas and coal still share the throne, with nuclear clinging to a somewhat fleshy slice.
Nonetheless, Vistra’s interest in wind power has gone well, and other signs of a sharp increase in renewable energy activity have increased this year, in part spurred by the settlement of a complaint filed by the Sierra Club. The deal involves the closure of the Joppa coal and gas-fired power plant in Vistra, Illinois, and it provides the company with an opportunity to lobby for the Illinois Coal to Solar and Energy bill. Storage Act ”.
If passed, the bill would help follow Vistra’s plans to convert several other Illinois coal-fired power plants to renewables. The company has already set aside $ 550 million for the effort, which would involve a total of nine sites, 300 megawatts of solar capacity and 175 megawatts of battery-type energy storage. Vistra is also planning a similar fate for its coal-fired power plants in Ohio.
If you think the Joppé site will soon be covered with solar panels, guess again. Apparently the site is not suitable for large scale solar conversion. A 45-megawatt battery will go instead, which is enough to serve around 22,500 typical homes.
Beyond batteries for long-term energy storage
This figure of 22,500 households sounds impressive, but the big question is for how long. Battery-type energy storage systems typically only last a few hours. This is sufficient to supply a grid after peak demand periods without having to resort to additional fossil fuel capacity, usually in the form of natural gas. However, four hours is not enough to replace all the existing “headphone” units.
Our friends at Power magazine recently cited a study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which indicates that approximately 150 gigawatts of peak fossil fuel capacity are on the way to disappear over the next 20 years in the United States. Battery-type energy storage facilities could only replace about 28 of those gigawatts in a four-hour scenario.
To replace the rest, something that lasts longer than four hours is needed. The US Department of Energy has tackled the problem through its DAYS “Time Added to Electricity Storage” program. The acronym is a bit of a stretch, as is the effort. DAYS seeks a minimum of 10 hours of energy storage, preferably reaching 100 hours or more.
It may seem like a difficult nut to break given the state of battery-type storage. However, pumped hydropower is already doing the trick, proving that it is possible. The problem with pumped hydropower is the narrow range of options for site selection.
Flow batteries are another water-based option that allows for a much wider range of deployment. The water is contained in tanks and the whole can be packed in a relatively small container or in a larger installation depending on the use case.
Another option is to take the gravity foundations of pumped hydropower and apply it to solid objects instead of water.
An interesting mashup in this area is the Energy Vault company, which plans to use recycled wind turbine blades in a gravity storage system that looks like a large side wheel.
The field of compressed air energy storage is also growing and expanding, so keep an eye out for that, along with thermal systems and other interesting storage solutions.
Follow me on twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility courtesy of Vistra.
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