2021 is shaping up as a boom year for utility-scale battery storage in the United States, with one big project already in service, another one expected to go online this year, still larger systems on the drawing boards, and utilities and regulators scrambling to keep up.
“Battery storage has entered a new phase of rapid growth, brought on by falling prices for lithium-ion batteries and rising demand for electricity sources that can fill in the gaps in a grid that is increasingly fueled by wind and solar,” Inside Climate News reports. “High demand is leading to a boom in investment in battery companies, and fevered speculation about new kinds of batteries.”
“I feel like we have crossed a threshold,” said Eric Gimon, a policy advisor with the Energy Innovation think tank. “That’s important, a signpost that we’re moving into a new era.”
The boom has been quick to take shape, ICN notes. As recently as 2016, writes clean energy specialist Dan Gearino, a 20-megawatt battery project was big news. But last month, the 300-MW Vistra Moss Landing Energy Storage went online in California, with developer Vistra Energy planning to add another 100 MW in August. And by the end of the year, NextEra Energy expects its 409-MW Manatee Energy Storage Center in Parrish, Florida to be operational.
The California installation “runs for four hours and produces up to 1,200 megawatt-hours before needing to be recharged,” Inside Climate writes. The Florida system “has a duration of slightly more than two hours, producing up to 900 megawatt-hours on a single charge.” Those numbers will make Manatee the country’s biggest battery to date, but Vistra Moss Landing the source of the largest quantity of electricity between charges.
“Grid operators and regulators are still getting used to the growing presence of battery storage and figuring out how this rapid change will affect electricity prices and the way various power producers work together,” Gearino writes, citing Gimon. But “they are going to need to work quickly, considering the pace of growth.” According to BloombergNEF, installed the capacity in the U.S. has gone from 0.3 gigawatts/0.7 gigawatt-hours in 2019, to 1.1 GW/3.0 GWh in 2020, to an anticipated 2.4 GW/7.6 GWh this year.
(About eight paragraphs from the top, the Inside Climate post includes a handy explanation of the difference between megawatts or gigawatts and megawatt-hours or gigawatt-hours.)
The torrid pace of growth is leading to new innovation, as more entrepreneurs crowd into the field. “Companies are working to find more efficient ways to build lithium-ion battery systems, and are working to develop batteries that use different materials,” Gearino writes. “The results may be useful across a battery economy that includes energy storage and electric vehicles.”