California Poised to Adopt First-in-Nation Energy Storage Mandate
By Dana Hull
A California law that requires utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind is widely credited with accelerating the state’s cleantech economy. Now state regulators are poised to compel utilities to invest in “energy storage,” which could jump-start technology long considered the holy grail of the electricity industry.
On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to vote on a groundbreaking proposal that would require PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to collectively buy more than 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage by 2020 — roughly enough electricity to supply nearly 994,000 homes.
The first-in-the-nation mandate is expected to spur innovation in emerging storage technologies, from batteries to flywheels. Once large quantities of energy can be stored, the electric grid can make better use of solar, wind and other technologies that generate energy sporadically rather than in a steady flow, and can better manage disruptions from unpredictable events such as storms and wildfires.
“There’s plenty of sun out there, and it’s going to take storage,” Gov. Jerry Brown said in a speech at a solar industry conference in San Francisco this summer. “We need to bottle sunlight.”
With the U.S. economy more dependent than ever on a steady supply of electricity, and as climate change creates more extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, experts say electric grids need to be equipped with tools to better manage volatility and unpredictable outages. And as more renewable energy comes online, utilities face a growing problem of “intermittency” because the sun doesn’t always shine and wind largely picks up at night, when demand from households and businesses is low. Grid operators are eager to find ways to store energy during off-peak times for use during peak hours, to avoid having to boot up “peaker” power plants that run only in times of high demand.
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