California's First-in-Nation Energy Storage Mandate

Rule will help pave way for continued aggressive buildout of wind and solar

2 min read
California's First-in-Nation Energy Storage Mandate
West Coast Wattage: A 2-megawatt, 14 megawatt-hour battery facility in Vacaville, Calif. could help California meet a new storage mandate.
Photo: PG&E

California has adopted the United States' first energy storage mandate, requiring the state's three major power companies to have electricity storage capacity that can output 1325 megawatts in place by the end of 2020, and 200 MW by the end of next year. The new rule issued by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will be key to implementation of the state's ambitious renewable portfolio rules, which calls for 33 percent of delivered electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020 and virtually guarantees that California, along with Germany, will remain in the world vanguard of those aggressively building out wind and solar.

[Editor's note: For an explanation of why the mandate is expressed in units of power instead of energy follow this link.]

By common expert consent, wind and solar can only reach their full potential if storage is provided for, as otherwise little-used generating capacity must be held in reserve for the times the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. California's landmark rule was written by Commissioner Carla Peterman, newly appointed to the CPUC late last year by Governor Jerry Brown.

"This is transformative," Chet Lyons, an energy storage consultant based in Boston, told the San Jose Mercury News, the state's most tech-savvy newspaper. "It's going to have a huge impact on the development of the storage industry, and other state regulators are looking at this as a precedent."

Though the new rule was adopted by the five CPUC commissioners unanimously, two expressed concerns about the strorage mandate's being achieved at reasonable cost to consumers, especially as large pumped storage (hydraulic) facilities do not qualify. There are a wide range of technologies that do qualify, including batteries and flywheels, but costs are generally high. Pike Research has concluded that the United States as a whole could have as much as 14 GW from storage by 2022, but only if storage costs come down to the vicinity of to about $700-$750 per kilowatt-hour.

This post was modified on 7 November for clarification.

Photo: PG&E

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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