Two Years in Energy Storage: Then and Now
This weekend is the second anniversary of a landmark ruling issued by the California Public Utilities Commission directing the three major California investor-owned utilities to procure 1,325 megawatts of energy storage by 2020.
In the lead-up to the release of CPUC’s energy storage decision (D.13-10-040), a culmination of several years of groundwork by the CPUC staff and commissioners, as well as many people, organizations, and institutions beyond the CPUC, there were concerns about whether the initiative might be too radical, expensive and risky. However, one observation can already be made: after just two years, the extent of the dramatic developments in the energy storage landscape is breathtaking, far exceeding even the wildest expectations of the regulators (author included) who played a role in developing the CPUC’s storage initiative.
Once again, Silicon Valley has been a driving force behind a major technology transformation, this time in energy storage. What seemed radical at the time the CPUC ruling was issued now appears to be yesterday’s news. Already, the cost of some storage technologies has dropped below the levels projected in CPUC’s study of energy storage cost-effectiveness for 2020.
Back then, not a single solar company was active in the storage space. Now, 70 percent of industry stakeholders deemed energy storage to be the most important technology for solar energy’s future growth, according to a poll conducted among attendees last month at Solar Power International, the largest solar trade show in North America. Also, most major solar players and independent power producers (even those traditionally focused on gas) are now busy developing an energy storage strategy.
Back then, there were just a few small storage projects on the ground, mostly pilots. In contrast, a recently released ESA/GTM Research study estimates that 41 megawatts of storage projects were installed in just the second quarter of this year, with the total by the end of the year expected to be more than 5 times that — 220 megawatts. Moreover, some consultant studies are projecting new installed storage capacity to grow strongly to over 10 gigawatts in 10 years’ time — and that amount is just for the renewables integration application.
In the recent past, storage as a substitute for a gas peaker plant was just a conceptual use case in the CPUC’s study. Now, a major California utility is seeking authorization to build an actual storage peaker sized at 100 megawatts. And earlier this month, a $17 billion power producer was willing to make the stunning assertion that “Post-2020, there may never be another [gas] peaker built in the United States — very likely you’ll be just building energy storage instead.”