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The Sun is Shining on San Diego’s Solar and Energy Storage Ventures

The sun may be shining on the energy storage business. If the latest deal between San Diego Gas &Electric and Hecate Energy Bancroft is an indicator, the utility may be on its way to securing 165 megawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020.

Such storage can harness the solar electrons. It would feed the grid with the energy necessary if a power surge occurs that would cause the network to overload and the lights to go out. When the network gets out of kilter, the storage kicks in.

The goal here is to make energy storage both accessible and affordable. Most people associate the technology with taking electric power off the grid at night and storing it in a battery, releasing it later on when the demand for power is highest and when the sun may be hiding — a more distant goal. But the more prevalent use is to infuse the grid with electrons when the switches trip or the voltage sways. That keeps the lights from flickering out.

The San Diego Gas & Electric-Hecate Energy combo will create a 20-megawatt energy storage facility that is capable of storing enough electricity to power 28,000 homes for up to four hours, the two say. It’s part of a 20-year-power purchase agreement, and the facility is expected to be completed by 2019.

The utility also contracted for 18.5 megawatt of energy efficiency projects with Willdan Energy Solutions — all to help customers reduce their energy usage by cutting into their heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, lighting and other commercial features in buildings. It is a six-year contract.

“These projects will help us expand the use of energy conservation technologies in many new locations in the community,” said San Diego’s Chief Energy Supply Officer, Scott Drury, in a release. “Furthermore, SDG&E is proud to launch an advanced energy storage facility to harness solar, wind and other sources of energy so that we can supply it to our customers when they need it most.”

San Diego, which is one of the most successful cities in the country when it comes to installing solar energy, is equally interested in advancing energy storage that would help make those green investments successful. To that end, its efforts to roll out energy storage are part of California’s mandate to install 1,325 megawatts of energy storage by 2020.

In the case of the San Diego utility and Hecate, they are using a lithium-ion battery.   The project can store supplies of solar, wind and other clean traditional resources when they are abundant and inexpensive, and release that energy during peak hours when customer demand is high.

Similarly, Southern California Edison, a unit of Edison International, just revved up its Tehachapi Energy Storage Project that is located on a wind farm about 100 miles north of Los Angles. Altogether, the deal is projected to provide 8 megawatts for four full hours, which equates to 32 megawatt hours. It also uses lithium-ion batteries for voltage support.

Grid-scale storage is 1 megawatt or more and sold to utilities by storage developers, typically through requests for proposals. They are used for frequency regulation or renewable smoothing – the most prevalent use today.

“Grid-scale energy storage is no longer in the trial stage – it is generating significant revenues for utilities and independent power producers today,” says John Jung, chief executive of Greensmith.

More demonstrations of the technology are in the offing, specifically those that give the grid short-term infusions to prevent brownouts. But any full-scale adoption that can endlessly and efficiently send green electrons is further away.

Ken Silverstein is editor-in-chief of Business Sector Media, publisher of Environmental Leader and Energy Manager Today.

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