California gets another 100MW battery project as competition with gas peakers heats up

by Julian Spector, Greentech Media


Community choice agency (CCA) Clean Power Alliance, which provides power for Los Angeles and Ventura counties, has contracted a deal with sPower to build a 100-megawatt battery storage facility.

  • This is the first CCA to contract a 100 MW battery system
  • This battery size is equivalent to the largest battery in the world by megawatt capacity 
  • Titled the Luna Storage Facility, the project will cost $100 million dollars and use labor from the nearby town of Lancaster
  • Southern California is retiring it’s coastal gas plants due to environmental regulations from the State. The introduction of new battery facilities will help replace these plants and store energy created by renewable sources
  • The battery will help bring more clean energy into evening and night time energy use,  a time where fossil fuel use is higher due to lack of access of renewables once solar is offline
  • The project is expected to be online by August 2021
  • Clean Power Alliance Executive Director Ted Bardacke wants to finish the  project quickly to show that battery plants can reliably take over the peak-power role from gas peakers

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources, and The Climate Center is working to spread it throughout California for a climate-safe future. We are especially focused on establishing Community Choice in the Central Valley, where the impacts of a fossil fuel economy are most acute.

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New study supports distributed clean energy and community energy resilience

by Brian Bienkowski, Environmental Health News


Small-scale energy projects are likely to help the world reach climate goals more effectively than larger-scale projects, according to a new study from Science Magazine.

  • The study used existing technologies to see what would help countries lower emissions all the way down to net-zero by 2050 and examined factors such as cost and accessibility 
  • So-called “granular” technologies such as solar plus storage, heat pumps, smart thermostats, electric bikes, and shared taxis had the capacity to lower emissions more so than “lumpy” technologies such as nuclear power, carbon capture, or building retrofits
  • Lead author of the study Charlie Wilson suggests that governments prioritize small scale solutions by “directing funding, policies, incentives, and opportunities for experimentation away from the few big and towards the many small.”
  • Small-scale granular tech is easier to deploy and can create local jobs faster and have a lower investment risk

The Climate Center’s clean and smart community microgrid initiative for a Climate-Safe California will help ensure that all cities and counties have the funding and technical support to conduct collaborative, participatory planning processes going forward.

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Proof that decentralized energy devices can deliver reliable power to the grid

by Julian Spector, Greentech Media

Sunrun will get its chance to prove that home batteries and solar panels can stack up against traditional power plants.

The San Francisco-based company won a 20-megawatt bid in the forward capacity auction for ISO New England, which operates the electric grid in six Northeastern states. That auction ensures that enough grid capacity will be online in 2022.

Unlike previous winners, Sunrun did not bid a traditional power plant. Its product is a network of small solar and battery installations that will go into roughly 5,000 customer homes across the region. The company is promising to aggregate across those systems to deliver the necessary power to the grid, while also keeping the host customers happy.

Sunrun has vocally promoted this vision, as it expanded from simply installing solar panels into battery storage and grid services business lines. Many other companies and analysts share the belief that distributed resources, acting together, can provide a cleaner, more resilient and cheaper alternative to centralized grid architectures.

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Harvey’s devastation shows the need for distributed energy, microgrids during disasters

by Jeff St. John, Greentech Media

Harvey, the hurricane-turned-tropical depression that’s devastated the Texas Gulf Coast, has also driven home the value of off-grid energy systems, from backup generators to microgrids — and the dire results of failing to have them ready to prevent disasters.

The floodwaters have killed dozens of people and left tens of thousands homeless, and the storm has also knocked out power for more than 200,000utility customers from Beaumont to Corpus Christi. While many residents have had power restored, many others are stuck in flooded areas where utility crews can’t even get to, let alone repair the damage.

That’s left many homes, businesses and industrial facilities no choice but to ride out the outage — or, if they’ve got them, to turn on their own generators. Most of these distributed energy resources (DERs) are just diesel generators in the garage. In a handful of cases, they’re built into a building’s everyday operations, but can also kick on to keep the power in stores and hospitals running through blackouts.

But for facilities like oil refineries or chemical plants, on-site power generation and controls are not just convenient, they’re critical — and their failure could spell catastrophe. That’s the unfortunate situation at the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where floods knocked out grid power and two separate backup power systems on Sunday. That’s left a storage site for volatile peroxides without the refrigeration they need to keep from breaking down, emitting noxious fumes, and eventually catching on fire or exploding.

The 11 Arkema employees left as a skeleton crew at the closed-down plant dealt with the breakdown by transferring the chemicals to nine diesel-powered refrigerated trailers, but eight of those have failed as well, the New York Times reported. Then the employees were forced to abandon their efforts, as the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office requested the evacuationof all people within a 1.5-mile radius of the plant.

Since then, the storage site has been emitting noxious fumes that sent a dozen sheriff’s deputies to the hospital with reports of respiratory irritation, though all have since been released. The EPA estimates that 4,000 people live within a 3-mile radius of the site. Arkema has 66,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide, a highly toxic chemical, and another substance, methylpropene, in large enough quantities to require an EPA risk management plan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Thursday morning came reports of explosions at the site, although county officials and Arkema executives downplayed the threat in a press conference later in the morning, saying that the loud sounds were more likely to be the “popping” of the vapor release valves on the containers holding the chemicals.

Still, “When they decompose, they will generate heat; and when they generate heat, there’s a possibility of a fire and an explosion,” company executive Richard Rennard told reporters. “This is a very serious issue, and we know that.” Houston-area Republican Congressman Ted Poe told CNBCthat the site could be without power for up to six days.

It’s unclear how the plant’s multiple, redundant backup power systems failed. Arkema executives have cited the “unprecedented” nature of this week’s storm, with record-breaking rains and flooding that inundated the site, including its backup generators, in 6 feet of water.

Flooding has also lead to the closure of 16 hospitals across Texas, forcing the evacuation of more than 1,000 patients to facilities that remain open, according to the Department of State Health Services. But some of the state’s biggest hospitals remained open, thanks to multimillion-dollar investments designed to keep floodwaters out and power humming.

The Texas Medical Center in downtown Houston, for example, has invested $50 million in a network of floodgates that have kept its 50 million square feet of facilities dry and operating through Harvey. It’s also supplied by a combined heat and power and district energy system from Thermal Energy Corp.

That’s a significant investment, but it pales in comparison to the $2 billion in losses the hospital suffered when it was flooded during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, the hospital’s president Bill McKeon told PBS.

Not all businesses face such a stark financial incentive to invest in backup power and storm resiliency. But there may be a broader market for distributed backup power systems that earn money and cut costs for customers when the majority of the time the grid isn’t down.
That’s the business model behind the natural-gas generators running at 63 H-E-B supermarkets across the greater Houston area. Installed and operated for a small fee by microgrid-as-a-service provider Enchanted Rock, these systems provide reduced utility bills for their stores, and offer opportunities for bidding their energy into markets run by Texas grid operator ERCOT.

But they’re also installed for the express purpose of being able to run in “island mode,” disconnected from the grid. Since Friday, 18 of H-E-B’s storeshave successfully kept themselves up and running in this mode, feeding their generators from underground natural gas pipelines that haven’t been destroyed by winds or floods.

This feature has made natural gas the fuel of choice for most of Texas’ microgrid systems, as compared to the diesel fuel that powers most backup generators. Enchanted Rock has built up a fleet of about 130 megawatts of these on-site generators, and has been able to run them in a way that makes them cost-competitive without subsidies, Thomas McAndrew, the company’s founding partner and managing director, said at Greentech Media’s Grid Edge World Forum 2017 conference in June.

Meanwhile, Texas has a few more advanced microgrids, designed to use on-site solar power, energy storage, and building energy controls in a way that reduces their reliance on fossil fuels. Dallas-area utility Oncor has built a showcase microgrid at its operating facility in Lancaster, and a Department of Energy-funded project at Group NIRE’s facility in Lubbock is seeking to control up to 100 devices, including batteries, electric vehicles, controllable HVAC systems, and binary-switched devices such as water heaters and LED lighting controls. These sites are well out of the way of Harvey’s fury, however.

As the response to Harvey continues, members of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities highlighted the recent approval of Middletown Township’s application for a microgrid feasibility study.

“Superstorm Sandy and the incredible devastation that continues in the Gulf Coast by Hurricane Harvey should serve as solemn reminders that while we have advanced distribution automation, hardened…distribution systems and improved preparedness, we still need to address local energy resiliency systems like advanced microgrids to complete the resiliency circle to help us prepare for the next emergency,” said Board President Richard Mroz.