How California’s Landmark Energy Storage Bill Works

By Jeff St. John in Earth2Tech, March 5 2010

Energy storage — if you’re going to have intermittent wind and solar powering even a fraction of the country’s energy needs, you’re going to need it as backup, the experts agree. But right now grid-scale energy storage is a challenge, without clear regulatory and market mechanisms as to how to make it pay for itself.

But a new bill in the California legislature could force the issue. Assembly Bill 2514 (pdf), written by state Rep. Nancy Skinner and backed by state Attorney General Jerry Brown, would require that the state’s utilities match 2.25 percent of their peak loads with energy storage by 2014, and 5 percent by 2020 — a goal that could equate to about 3,400 MW of storage capacity in the next 10 years.

It’s the first such mandate to be introduced at the state level, and “the most exciting piece of energy storage legislation that we’ve seen on this topic to date,” Janice Lin, director of the newly formed California Energy Storage Alliance, said Thursday at the U.C. Berkeley Energy Symposium. The alliance includes battery makers such as EnerVault, A123Systems, Deeya Energy, Prudent Energy, Xtreme Power, ZBB, Powergetics and AltairNano, as well as flywheel maker Beacon Power, air conditioner energy storage maker Ice Energy, solar panel giant Suntech and oil, gas and energy services giant Chevron. That list is representative of the range of technologies that could play a role in helping California meet such a challenging goal.

But will a mandate forcing utilities to meet energy storage thresholds help change the current economics of some of the newer energy storage technologies? The problem with some of the technologies like batteries is that they’re just too expensive.

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