California calls for large-scale energy storage

The first day of the Energy Storage trade fair in Düsseldorf (which runs from March 25-27) began with the California Public Utility Commission giving suppliers the target of increasing storage capacity in the U.S. state to 1,325 MW by 2020.

"We are the first state to have storage targets," said Carla Peterman, commissioner for energy storage issues at the CPUC. She was part of a six-member delegation from California, which took questions in the opening session on the first day of trade fair.

Eventual cost reduction is one reason for the storage target in California, according to Peterman. The situation in Germany is similar in some respects to that in California. If it were an independent nation, California would boast the eighth largest economy. Its population is about half that of Germany’s, and renewable energies have a share of about 22% of the overall energy mix; a figure that is expected to increase to around 40% by 2020 as the current governor presses ahead with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases.

Currently, natural gas plays a major role in California. For one thing, it is needed to compensate for fluctuations in production and consumption. Furthermore, gas costs have plummeted in recent years. "With these savings we invest in renewable energy and infrastructure," said Michael Picker, commissioner of the CPUC.

One other reason why the debate is not being shaped by cost is that many homeowners have been able to cut their electricity bills because they can save power, as with inefficient air conditioning systems. Air conditioners also offer a good opportunity for load management, partly with ice storage. However, this also starkly highlights the difference to Germany, where winter brings little solar power generation and simultaneous high energy consumption. "When it is the winter peak in Germany, it is the summer peak in California," says Picker. The solution, however, must be a considered one.

There is a big difference in terms of plant size, too. California has lots of available land to accommodate large, central PV and wind power plants. There are, however, also 200,000 systems already installed on residential buildings.

It is mainly down to Governor Jerry Brown that the situation in California is currently so positive towards renewable energies and storage systems. He has been in power since 2011 and stands a good chance of being re-elected. The debate on climate change is also different in Germany when compared with the rest of the U.S. "Climate change is with us right now," said Robert Weise Miller, Chairman of the Central Department of Energy California Energy Commission, CEC, who remarked that California is becoming drier, with temperatures and the number of uncontrolled forest fires rising.

The organizers of the conference, held in Messe Dusseldorf, expect more than 800 participants from 47 countries over the duration of its two days.

Article translated by Kevin Campbell.