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World's Largest Storage Battery Could Power L.A. In Five Years

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(Photo by Richard Schneider via the Creative Commons on Flickr)
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In a mere five years, the world's largest storage battery could be used to meet peak demand and keep the power on in much of Los Angeles. Scientific American reports that plans are in place to replace a a gas-fired Long Beach power plant with a mega-battery "capable of holding and delivering over 100 megawatts of power an hour for four hours." To put that in context, that's roughly a tenth of the power delivered by a modern nuclear power plant.The 100 MW battery will store power using the same lithium-ion technology used in electric-car batteries, albeit on a bigger scale. According to Scientific American, the Long Beach facility will eventually have 18,000 battery modules, each the size of the power plant of a Nissan Leaf electric car. AES Corp., the company tasked with building the battery, has worked with manufacturers of electric-car batteries for the past nine years.

So how will it work? Right now, the west Los Angeles area depends on that Long Beach gas-fired power plant (nicknamed the "peaker") to help the area's other power plants meet peak electricity consumption demands during certain times of the day. If all goes according to plan, by 2021 the peaker will be replaced by the mega-battery that AES is currently working on, which will not only be cheaper, but also more eco-friendly (extra power, less fossil fuels).

The new battery will store inexpensive solar power that could have otherwise been wasted during the day, and will "spen[d] the night sucking up cheap power, most of it from wind turbines," according to Scientific American.

"Storage provides a means to temporarily park excess energy, including renewables [i.e. wind and solar power], when it's plentiful and cost-efficient and inject it back onto the grid later in the day when it's needed," Anne Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, which overseas electricity distribution in the state, told the L.A. Times last year. Beyond being cost-effective, the switch will also help Southern California Edison meet the state's aggressive goals to cut California's greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

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Robert Villegas, a spokesperson for Southern California Edison, the local utility that chose AES's proposal from the 1,800 other offers to replace the Long Beach plant, told LAist that the new technology didn't factor into SoCal Edison's decision; they just chose the best proposal.

"We're fairly technology neutral, and we procure based on our customer's needs," Villegas said.

And those needs have been particularly crucial in recent months, as warming summer weather coincides with the much-documented troubles at the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. Even if the battery won't be on line for another five years, it still offers an exciting turn for the future of Los Angeles. Now let's just come up with something to keep the lights on until then.

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Photo of the current plant and rendering of the proposed changes. (Courtesy of AES)