Sacramento unplugs Brown battery plan

Sacramento unplugs Brown battery plan


battery matrixAt its Sept. 4 meeting, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District deferred deploying batteries along its electric grid in compliance with Assembly Bill 2514 of 2010. The reason: energy storage was not economically feasible. (See p. 93 and p. 143 of the Board Agenda)

The action was a reversal for Gov. Jerry Brown. While attorney general, he co-wrote AB2514 with Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Under AB2514, public utilities must establish “procurement targets” for energy storage projects by Oct. 1, 2014.  The bill included targets for energy storage from batteries, hydroelectric storage, thermal storage, flywheel technology and compressed air energy storage.

But such targets were only required after considering “viability, cost-effectiveness, and a variety of possible policies to encourage the cost-effective deployment of energy storage systems,” in the board’s summary of the AB2514 requirements.

Battery storage helps make more viable such renewable energy sources as solar, storing power for use when there’s no sunlight; and wind, storing power for when there’s no wind.

SMUD staff recommended that its Board of Directors “defer establishing energy storage targets until more viable and cost-effective energy storage systems become available.”

It wasn’t a casual decision by SMUD to defer any rollout of battery storage.  AB2514 requires re-evaluations of the feasibility of battery storage every three years in perpetuity at a cost of $1 million per year for each public utility.  SMUD had invested over $30 million since 2008 in research to deploy batteries along its transmission lines to facilitate green power.


The AB2514 SMUD Storage Procurement Report of Aug. 28, 2014, included a technical and scientific overview of each energy-storage technology.  Battery storage technology is reported to cost up to $950 per kilowatt hour for the same electricity for which California residential electric customers currently pay about $0.10 to $0.20 (10 to 20 cents) per kilowatt hour (see p. 118 of the SMUD Report).

Left unsaid was that cost-effective utility-scale battery storage may not come about for another 50 years — or ever.  A recent analysis by John Morgan, adjunct professor in the School of Electrical Engineering at RMIT University in Australia, showed that battery storage makes wind energy and solar power even less economically feasible than they already are.

In late July 2014, researchers at Stanford University, including former Obama Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, announced a “holy grail” battery breakthrough. But John Goodenough, part of the team that invented the original lithium-ion battery in the 1970s, was skeptical. He said, “It is not clear he has achieved that goal with a sufficiently cheap process.”

Consumers are used to fast reductions in the cost of computing because of Moore’s Law, under which processing power doubles every 12 to 18 months. But that just hasn’t happened with batteries, where progress comparatively has been at a turtle’s pace.

AB2514 supported by unions and green energy interests

Back in 2010, Brown and Skinner were joined in their support of AB2514 by the California Labor Federation, Los Angeles Mayor Villaragosa, the California Public Utilities Commission and 54 special-interest group organizations involved in energy storage.

The only cited opposition was by the California Manufacturers and Technology Corporation. But the Senate analysis warned of problems that would persist:

“The most common form of energy storage device in use today is batteries. However, there are no commercially available batteries that could cost-effectively store the large amounts of electricity that can be produced by large-scale wind farms or solar facilities.”

In the coming weeks, will be checking out some of the other energy producers in the state to see how they are dealing with AB2514.

One preliminary report: Despite SMUD’s problems, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has established energy storage targets of 21 megawatts by 2016 and 154 megawatts by 2021, but has not yet evaluated the potential cost.


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  1. Tesla_x
    Tesla_x 10 September, 2014, 08:35

    Download the statewide quarterly report to see battery vendors like tesla and solar city that are installing batteries and corralling millions in incentives originally meant for ‘generation’ projects.

    The SGIP program is for efficiency and lowering ghg emissions, but storing and discharging grid power is less efficient because of power lost to ’round trip’ efficiencies, with a consequent rise in ghg emissions.

    These systems cost the same or more than just installing a natural gas generator, and cannibalize truly renewable projects like generation of power and heat from wastewater biogas, which offers us alternate sources of emergency power to run a wastewater plant in an emergency for hours or days.

    Batteries cannot do this and once the grid goes gown, and their charge is depleted, they are useless.

    The entire battery push is simply being driven by the incentives, which amount to a ~40% subsidy.

    If this subsidy were not available to a non-generating technology, this industry would not exist.

    Reply this comment
  2. Tesla_x
    Tesla_x 10 September, 2014, 08:49

    To amend the above, the subsidy can be as high as 60%, and this was the result of huge lobbying by battery interests.

    The abuse of this program and incentives is causing huge misallocations of utility and energy infrastructure dollars which reduces spending in necessary areas of baseload generation, efficiency, grid upgrades to survive natural disasters, etc.

    Reply this comment
  3. vonborks
    vonborks 10 September, 2014, 12:20

    Battery’s used On-the-Grid are only required to support Solar and Wind, the most expensive forms of electricity ranging from 20X to 50X the cost of electricity produced by natural gas, a clean and inexpensive commodity that California has in abundance. Battery’s, Solar and Wind are not technically, environmentally nor economically sustainable to support a reliable 24/7 Grid and all Grid managing engineers know that. Solar and Wind On-the-Grid was not a technical nor environmental recommendation, it was a 100% political decision. As Solar Panels and Windmills age and deteriorate (and they are aging at a quicker pace than the public is told) they will not be replaced; these zillions of solar panels, monster windmills and big battery banks will overload the few existing approved recycling centers and landfills. If you believe that the corporations that guaranteed lifetime support for these systems will still be around 20 years later to do the recycling you must also believe in the Tooth Fairy, the taxpayers will bear the costs and the cost in energy and dollars to dismantle, transport, recycle and safely contain underground these megatons of hazardous waste will equal or exceed the original manufacturing costs and in most instances the “clean” energy it was supposed to produce. Everyone in the “business” knows that very well but it is all about money, corporations are not churches or charities, they are in business to make money for their stockholders, as long as wasteful government subsidies prevail business will be involved. Solar, wind, battery projects and grants for papers proving all is just perfect will continue until the money runs out, it is what it is…

    Reply this comment
  4. Ted
    Ted 11 September, 2014, 10:53

    Whoever wrote this headline– well done– move to the head of the class

    Reply this comment

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