California Power Companies to Invest in High-Tech Storage

Jun 20, 2013

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Few places in the United States are as progressive about green energy as the state of California. As the most populous state in that country, California also leads the way in America's power consumption. That said, it should come as no surprise that the state's Public Utilities Commission has ordered power companies to provide one third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. In order to achieve the established benchmark, California's power companies will likely be forced to invest in high-tech storage systems. At current production rates, they will not be able to reach the 30% goal without adequate storage. In order to ensure storage investment is realised, the Commission recently proposed a regulation that would require power companies to acquire up to 1325 MW of storage capacity over the next 15 years or so. Such voluminous capacity would require investments of somewhere between $1 billion and $3 billion. According to sources, if the proposal is eventually enacted it would double the amount of storage capacity in California connected to the nation's grid. The total storage capacity realised by the additions would be roughly equivalent to the combined storage existing globally at the current time. That's significant for an industry with such lofty goals. In order to design and build viable power storage systems, the industry will have to look at both lithium-ion and molten salt technologies. Lithium-ion is more of a short-term storage solution designed for excess power that will be quickly turned over and put back into the grid. Molten salt is designed for long-term storage needs. The additional storage will enable California's power companies to make better use of both solar and wind generating capacity. At peak production times, excess energy can be stored for later use when the wind is not so strong and the sun is not shining. However, it should be noted that increased storage capacity, by itself, will not solve the inherent weaknesses of solar and wind power generation. Other forms of renewable energy must be added to the equation.

Benefits to the IT Sector

Adding energy storage to national power grids benefits everyone, but perhaps its biggest benefits are to the IT sector. The power and cooling needs of data centres, for example, represent one of the largest single commercial energy consuming components in the modern era. That's why so many new data centre projects are including infrastructure and strategies that take advantage of renewable energy sources. The IT sector would most benefit from lithium-ion storage capacity because it stores electricity that is ready for immediate use. Molten salt storage is better suited for generating additional electricity that can be added to the grid at whatever time is most suitable. In either case, power-hungry IT technology is only creating further need for renewable energy storage heading into the future. The failure or success of the plans in California will go a long way in determining the role of green energy as it relates to information technology.