California paves way for gigawatt-scale Tesla battery to replace gas

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California regulator paves way for gigawatt-scale lithium ion batteries from Tesla and others to replace ageing natural gas power plants.

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The Wilsona Solar project will be built near Palmdale, California. Shuttershock
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The United States has, of late, made much of its ability to produce its own electricity from natural gas – which regularly accounts for around a third of the country’s generation.

In fact, until the last few years, natural gas generation has grown steadily in the United States and, some time in 2015, overtook coal as the country’s leading generator of electricity.

However, recent news out of California shows that the long-term dominance of natural gas is under questions, with California electric utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announcing it intends to replace three ageing natural gas power plants with battery-storage systems.

The California Public Utilities Commission last week formally approved four PG&E energy-storage contracts intended for Northern California’s electricity grid – including a project to be constructed by Tesla.

The approval stems from PG&E’s response to the Commission’s own order in January to replace the power it receives from three Calpine Corp. gas plants that are at risk of retirement, and to consider using battery projects.

And that’s exactly what PG&E did.

The move was described by Utilities Commissioner Liane Randolph as “only one step in the broader challenge we face in managing the state’s fossil fuel fleet.”

Moving to replace the three gas power plants requires significant capacity, and the four recently-approved battery projects will amount to a total 568 MW.

Information is patchy, but we know that the projects will include the following:

A 183 MW/730 MWh facility set to be built south of San Jose that will be designed and built by Tesla and owned by PG&E, and could be expanded to provide up to 1.1 GWh;

A 300 MW/1,200 MWh project which will be developed by Vistra Energy Corp.; a 75 MW/300 MWh project set to be developed by Hummingbird Energy Storage; and a further 10 MW worth of battery storage to be installed by Micronoc at customer locations.

“Vistra is excited for this opportunity to work with PG&E, and the State of California, to develop a world-class battery project on our Moss Landing site, while building industry-leading expertise in the development and commercialization of battery storage assets,” said Curt Morgan, Vistra’s president and chief executive officer.

“The Moss Landing battery project will be the largest of its kind in the world and will position Vistra as a market leader in utility-scale battery development. This project is consistent with Vistra’s strategy to opportunistically invest in new technologies in support of the changing energy supply landscape.”

“esVolta is delighted to be selected by PG&E for the Hummingbird project. PG&E is a leading North American energy company and a key customer for esVolta, and this contract award is an important milestone for our company as we build towards our goal of assembling a large portfolio of utility-scale, advanced energy storage projects,” added Randolph Mann, president of esVolta.

Each of the projects are expected to be brought online by the end of 2020 and will be built using Lithium-Ion batteries.

Joshua S. Hill is a regulator contributor to RenewEconomy and other clean energy publications.

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