Sacramento unplugs Brown battery plan

by Wayne Lusvardi | September 9, 2014 5:25 pm


battery matrixAt its Sept. 4 meeting, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District deferred deploying batteries along its electric grid in compliance with Assembly Bill 2514 [1]of 2010. The reason: energy storage was not economically feasible. (See p. 93 and p. 143 of the Board Agenda[2])

The action was a reversal for Gov. Jerry Brown. While attorney general, he co-wrote AB2514 with Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner[3], 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[4] 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[5] 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[6].  A recent analysis by John Morgan[7], 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[8], including former Obama Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, announced a “holy grail” battery breakthrough. But John Goodenough[9], 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[10], 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[11] involved in energy storage.

The only cited opposition was by the California Manufacturers and Technology Corporation. But the Senate analysis [12]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[13] energy storage targets of 21 megawatts by 2016 and 154 megawatts by 2021, but has not yet evaluated the potential cost.

  1. Assembly Bill 2514 :
  2. Board Agenda:
  3. Nancy Skinner:
  4. $1 million per year:
  5. AB2514 SMUD Storage Procurement Report:
  6. ever:
  7. John Morgan:
  8. Stanford University:
  9. John Goodenough:
  10. Moore’s Law:
  11. the California Labor Federation, Los Angeles Mayor Villaragosa, the California Public Utilities Commission and 54 special-interest group organizations:
  12. Senate analysis :
  13. has established:

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