Southern California Edison bets big on lithium ion for the nation’s largest energy storage project

If you think energy storage is pie-in-the-sky technology, think again.

Southern California Edison dedicated the nation’s largest battery energy storage project Wednesday at its substation near Tehachapi, which is one of the windiest places in the state.

The 32 MWh system features lithium-ion batteries from LG Chem, housed inside a 6,300 square-foot facility, at SCE’s Monolith substation. The energy storage project is located in the Tehachapi Wind Resource Area, which is projected to generate up to 4,500 MW of wind energy by 2016.

Its sheer size and four-hour duration makes it a significant demonstration project for the utility sector. And LG Chem, based in Korea, is one of the world’s largest producers of lithium-ion batteries. ABB is making the inverters. The $50 million project was paid for by SCE and federal stimulus funding.

“Thanks to advances in battery technology, storage is beginning to look like a real feasible solution,” said Doug Kim, director of advanced technologies at SCE, in an interview. “It’s 8 megawatts of power for four continuous hours, so 32 megawatt hours. It’s connected to a substation that brings power from the wind farms.”

Everyone is getting into the storage game, from large corporations like GE to solar companies, Tesla Motors and a host of Silicon Valley startups.

“There are a lot of creative people out there experimenting with different battery chemistries,” said Kim. “But lithium ion is the best solution in the near term. It’s getting economies of scale, and that is how you drive the cost down. Lithium ion is the most commercially ready and available battery technology today.”

Tehachapi Storage Project. Photo courtesy of Southern California Edison.




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  • Fred Zoepfl

    A “faster, better, cheaper” energy storage technology that is commercially available today:

    GE has recently invested in liquid air energy storage (LAES). Next generation LAES systems are being designed to go to 200 MWh.