Roger Andrews: California public utilities vote no on energy storage

[My comment: Without energy storage, wind, solar, and other electricity generating alternative resources can’t continue to be added to the electric grid, because they make the grid too unstable and prone to blackouts (which can damage the electric grid). To read the energy storage reports from each utility on complying with AB2514 scroll down this page to publicly owned utility reports. My favorite one is from Anaheim]

California public utilities vote no on energy storage

by Roger Andrews, November 5, 2014

In 2002 California set itself an ambitious renewable energy target – a third of its electricity from renewables by 2020.

Whether it will meet it, however, remains an open question because the more intermittent renewable energy California adds the more difficult it becomes to integrate it with the grid. This problem in fact became evident fairly early on, and in an attempt to solve it California in 2010 passed legislation (AB 2514) to encourage its publicly owned utilities to install energy storage – batteries, thermal, flywheels, CAES, pumped hydro (not exceeding 50 MW), whatever worked – requesting them to develop viable and cost-effective plans and submit end-2016 energy storage capacity targets by October 1, 2014. This deadline has now passed, the ballots are in and the submissions from 29 of 31 California publicly owned utilities (two of the links provided don’t work) have been published here (h/t Mark Miller for the link).

And how much energy storage did the 29 utilities commit to?

27.6 MW, equal to roughly 0.1% of their combined peak load. Enough to keep the lights on for maybe a few seconds:

  • Two utilities (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Redding Public Utilities) committed to new storage projects totaling 27.6 MW.
  • Two utilities (Riverside Public Utilities and Vernon Gas and Electric) set targets of zero MW.
  • One utility (Glendale Water and Power) adopted its existing 1.5 MW of installed thermal storage as its target.
  • The remaining 24 utilities declined to set a target, almost all on the grounds that energy storage is cost-ineffective and/or technologically immature.

Most of the submissions consist of copies of Board Resolutions with little or no technical backup. The one from Burbank Water and Power is typical:

A target for Burbank Water and Power to procure energy storage is not appropriate at this time due to lack of fully developed, cost-effective energy storage opportunities.

Although others are a little more specific on costs, such as Roseville Electric:

Staff concluded current storage technologies are 2 to 10 times higher cost than energy from Roseville’s existing portfolio of resources.

and Turlock Irrigation District:

The results of the staff study concluded that energy storage systems are currently not cost effective and in most cases increased cost by millions each year.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District, however, goes into detail. Here’s an excerpt from SMUD’s submission:

Since 2008, SMUD has invested over $30 million dollars in internally and externally funded research to understand and prepare SMUD and its customers for eventual deployment and utilization of energy storage. Staff has been conducting various field demonstrations, studies, and assessments of different storage technologies, used for different applications ranging from transmission scale to distribution scale to customer scale systems. On technical issues, this body of work has assessed technology performance including such factors as efficiency, reliability, and durability. On economic issues, this body of work has assessed capital costs, installation costs, operation costs, value, and cost effectiveness. Additionally through this body of work, staff has assessed grid integration issues and strategies for interconnecting, aggregating, visualizing and controlling storage systems from grid planning and operations perspectives. Based upon this body of research, staff finds the storage applications examined are not cost effective at this time, with the exception of large scale pumped hydro storage.

Which helps SMUD not at all because large-scale pumped hydro is the one storage option California doesn’t allow.

So here we have a near-unanimous vote of no confidence in energy storage from utility professionals whose job it is to supply reliable power to consumers and who understand the realities of the electricity market. From it we can conclude:

    1.  That California is not going to get any meaningful amount of energy storage capacity before 2020.
    2.  That in all likelihood no one else is going to get any either. The economics just aren’t there (pumped hydro excluded).
    3.  That lack of energy storage capacity will continue to limit the grid penetration of non-dispatchable renewable generation for the foreseeable future.

Key excerpts from the submissions of all 29 utilities are listed below for reference. I’ve left the “Whereases”, “Now Therefores” and “Be It Resolveds” out to improve readability:

Alameda Power & Water: (finds) that energy storage systems are not currently viable or cost-effective for Alameda Municipal Power and (recommends) that procurement of energy storage systems be deferred until further justified.

City of Anaheim: ES technologies are relatively new and expensive not to mention vary in maturation and … are space intensive and difficult to site in an urban setting such as Anaheim and … do not assist Anaheim with reducing peak demand as Anaheim is already resourced to meet such demands.

Azusa Light and Water: (C)ommercially available energy storage technologies, although technically feasible, are not cost-effective at present.

(City of Banning – inoperative link.)

Biggs Municipal Utilities: (C)ommercially available energy storage systems are not currently viable and cost effective for the city at this time, and the City is not adopting procurement targets at this time.

Burbank Water & Power: (A) target for Burbank Water and Power (BWP) to procure energy storage is not appropriate at this time due to lack of fully developed, cost-effective energy storage opportunities.

City of Cerritos: The application of utility-owned and operated energy storage technology to serve the City’s electric utility customers over the next three years is more costly than the value of benefits.

City of Colton: Energy storage systems at this time are not economically viable due to their high cost.

Glendale Water & Power: It is recommended that the City Council approve Glendale Water & Power’s current installed energy storage capacity of 1.5 MW as GWP’s energy storage procurement target for the purpose of compliance with California Assembly Bill No. 2514 (2010).

(Healdsburg Electric Department: inoperative link.)

Lodi Electric Utility: has determined that the economics behind energy storage deem it not cost-effective at this time.

City of Lompoc: it is not cost-effective for the City to develop ES procurement targets at this time.

Merced Irrigation District: (S)ince MID does not purchase renewable energy… does not have direct access to, nor does it produce renewable energy for use in its electric retail system separate and apart from the power it purchases …. is not aware of any cost-effective technologies and/or applications that have been identified for the District’s operations, and since energy storage systems are generally intended to be tied to a renewable generation source, there is no purpose for implementing a procurement target for energy storage systems for use within MID’s electric retail service at this time.

Los Angeles Department of Water & Power: There are two projects that are deemed eligible energy storage systems namely, a generation connected storage with a net incremental capacity of 21 MW and an incentivized customer connected storage with a raised peak demand shift of 3MW, and LADWP will primarily rely on these two projects to fulfill its 2016 procurement targets totaling 24MW.

Modesto Irrigation District: has not identified reliability or operational needs that could be met only with energy storage and that would require the adoption of mandatory energy storage procurement targets …. (and therefore adopts) a policy that it is currently not appropriate for the District to adopt formal energy storage procurement targets.

City of Needles: determines that establishing a target for the City of Needles and the Needles Public Utility Authority to procure energy storage systems is not appropriate due to the absence of a clear and present need for energy storage systems.

City of Palo Alto: (A) target for the city of Palo Alto utilities to procure energy storage systems is not appropriate due to lack of cost-effective options.

Pasadena Water & Power: It is not appropriate at this time to establish procurement targets for energy storage systems to be procured by Pasadena Water and Power due to lack of cost-effective viable options.

Pittsburg Power Company (Island Energy): Staff recommends that the Board adopt no energy storage systems for Island Energy since energy storage systems are not feasible or cost-effective for Island Energy’s current operation.

Port of Oakland: Energy storage systems are not viable nor cost effective for the Port at this time.

City of Rancho Cucamonga: The City decline(s) establishing a procurement target for energy storage pursuant to AB 2514 due to the lack of cost- effective energy storage options

Redding Electric Utility: While not legislatively mandated to do so, in June 2012, the Council approved the expansion of REU’s (Thermal Expansion Storage) Program. The TES Program expansion provides for approximately 2 MW of PLS that would be in addition to REU’s existing TES/PLS already procured and installed from 2005 through May 2012 (1.3 MW). In addition, the Program expansion includes contract provisions for 2016-2017 allowing the City to procure additional TES/PLS systems up to 0.8 MW should REU operating conditions warrant more TES/PLS capability. In summary, REU’s energy storage targets for 2016 and 2020 are 3.6 MW and 4.4 MW respectively.

Riverside Public Utilities: Recommend(s) that the City Council adopt an Energy Storage Procurement Target per Assembly Bill 2514 of zero megawatt at this time as none of the viable applications of energy storage technologies/solutions that may benefit RPU are cost effective.

Roseville Electric: Staff concluded current storage technologies are 2 to 10 times higher cost than energy from Roseville’s existing portfolio of resources. In addition, the extent of application benefits remains unproven. Therefore energy storage procurement targets are not appropriate at this time.

City & County of San Francisco: concludes that it is not cost-effective for the SFPUC to adopt an electric storage procurement target at this time.

Sacramento Municipal Utility District: determines that the adoption of energy storage procurement targets is not appropriate at this time due to the lack of viable and cost effective energy storage options prior to the target dates set forth in Assembly Bill 2514.

City of Santa Clara: With the exception of pumped hydroelectric power, very little commercially available energy storage is currently cost-effective.

Truckee-Donner Public Utilities District: finds that energy storage systems are not currently viable and cost effective for this District, and the District is currently not adopting procurement targets.

Turlock Irrigation District: The results of the staff study concluded that energy storage systems are currently not cost effective and in most cases increased TID cost by millions each year.

Vernon Gas & Electric: Vernon Gas & Electric staff recommends that the city adopt energy storage procurement targets of zero megawatt hours by December 31, 2016, and December 31, 2020, because energy storage is not cost- effective, and, therefore, not appropriate for the City and City customers.

City of Victorville: (A) review of existing energy storage technologies did not identify an application that would be cost-effective at this time; however, it is anticipated that energy storage systems will become more commercially tested and cost-competitive with other resources with the passage of time and improvements in technology.

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8 Responses to Roger Andrews: California public utilities vote no on energy storage

  1. Mark Miller says:

    Thanks for the references at Roger’s post on the short term energy storage plans by the Public Electrical Utilities in CA!

    I have been impressed with the folks at SMUD over the years on how they are balancing the short to mid term needs of providing service at reasonable costs while evaluating new technologies to see if they will provide value to their customers.

    A few years back I had a couple of discussions with one of their business development folks about the comparative advantage they have, compared to PG&E services territory development folks, in attracting new industrial and commercial interests to their service territory. I fully understand why SMUD isn’t going to commit to energy storage at this time if they don’t have to.

    Loved the Rambler story!!! I have many fond memories of piling into our Rambler wagon and heading off to see relatives in Fla. during spring and/or winter breaks back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s.

    • energyskeptic says:

      One of the biggest challenges facing us is TIME. Even if ES is possible with some kind of breakthrough, such as cheap above-ground CAES, time is running out. I thought the last graph at Peak Oil Barrel of World Crude Oil Production by Geographical Area showing how world oil production is down by 2 million barrels a day if you subtract out North American oil is a sign of the net energy cliff approaching.

  2. jphsd says:

    Why not pumped hydro storage? I looked up the CUPC’s decision –

    Pumped storage hydroelectric projects over 50 MW are not eligible to bid into the energy storage procurement solicitations. The CPUC concluded that although large-scale pumped storage hydro meets the statute’s definition of an “energy storage system,”[11] it must limit the size of eligible pumped storage systems in order to encourage the development and deployment of “a broad range of energy storage technologies.”[12] In the CPUC’s view, the goal of creating a new market for a range of storage technologies would be undermined if the IOUs could meet their targets by acquiring a pumped storage facility: “The majority of pumped storage projects are 500 MW and over, which means a single project could be used to reach each target within a utility territory.”[13]

    Way to go CUPC, tie your hands behind your back.

    • energyskeptic says:

      And so few of these public utilities could add pumped storage even if they wanted to. Or afford to if they could, dams aren’t cheap. I understand why California wants to force the issue, it’s a problem all alternative energy/products face — how do you get people to buy a car that runs only on ethanol or CNG/LNG, etc., if there’s no or very few gas stations that have it? I keep thinking of Tainter’s collapse of societies from complexity – from what I’ve read in these municipal reports, the software to manage the new ES is problematic and adds a lot of extra complexity to manage, and the electric grid is already crazy with too many players to coordinate, I’m always amazed it’s still up given that and not enough investment is made to maintain let alone upgrade the transmission lines, etc.

  3. Phase Linear says:

    I am trying to understand this. Storage is needed to moderate unpredictable energy inputs from alternative sources so it presumes energy that needs to be stored. There are a lot of municipalities listed here and I find it hard to believe they all have the capacity to produce energy? If they do not have the capacity to produce why do they need storage? Was the state trying to anticipate future power input or in some way make it more attractive to put in alternative power because with storage there would be a ready market for the energy?

  4. Phase Linear says:

    The high tech storage dream seems to be yet alive….giant batteries and ice making air conditioners.

  5. Bill Chaffee says:

    It seems that power is being confused with energy. The watt is a unit of power and the joule is a unit of energy (one watt for one second). 50 megawatts is a quantity of power but how long can the power be produced with the amount of energy that is stored in the pumped storage system?

    • Mark Miller says:


      Excellent point. I live close to the proposed SMUD pumped hydro facility (SMUD’s preferred method to address stabilizing their grid as denoted in their comment at the link Alice provided).

      Your point that the instantaneous power (essentially the name plate theoretical maximum instantaneous output- kW or MW- of a generating asset) does not equal the energy- kWh or MWh- the asset can actually provide to the grid is spot on! Your concern sent me to the web to see if I could find a capacity factor (the average output of an asset over a given period of time) for a pumped hydro facility.

      Being a PG&E customer I thought checking out the Helms project seemed appropriate. It looks like the project is taking on a larger role then it was originally designed for in terms of stabilizing the grid and keeping PG&E’s costs down per Mr. Jones:
      “Overall, Jones said the equipment at Helms is pretty robust and has endured a very challenging operating history. “Helms is such an important flexible resource in both pumping and generating modes that it is started and stopped far more frequently than ever imagined,” said Jones

      Ref for the quote above-

      The Helms pumped storage hydro facility has three (independent I assume, but it’s not specifically stated in the documents I have) Westinghouse turbine generators that can produce UP to 1212 MU of instantaneous energy when operating at full capacity. Per the article above- “In fact, the Helms plant can go from dead stop to full generation in just 8 minutes.” I assume it can operate at 1/3 to ½ it’s capacity in a lot less time.

      The FERC document noted below indicates the facility has enough water storage capacity to run for at least 1 hour at it’s maximum rated output.

      I hope the increased use, expanded role, of the facility has led to some new SOP’s on the ideal start up procedure(s) for the facility to minimize wear and tear on the hardware.