Grid Batteries in Shipping Containers – Renewables are Here to Stay!
In September 2016 there was a statewide power outage across South Australia. Renewable energy haters leapt into the fray, wrongly blaming the wind energy supplying the grid in the storm. Much to the chagrin of the renewable energy haters, the solution to the problem was found in a Tesla battery system and not a new coal fired power station.
Over this seven or so minute read, let’s first look at how the Tesla grid battery here in Australia, before seeing how a system housed in shipping containers can help with disaster relief and then managing other power loss scenarios in the United States.
South Australia blacks out
The massive storms in South Australia in September 2016 proved just how fragile grid energy can be. While causing huge amounts of damage to private and public property, these storms stand out in memory because they knocked down 22 high voltage electricity pylons that were in place to carry electricity long distances across the state.
Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said on Sydney radio station 2GB: “Obviously we know that South Australia has had a strong desire to become basically all renewable energy and the question has to be asked does this make them more vulnerable to an issue such as what happened last night.”
Joyce continued, “If you turn power into just a complete social policy and say well we are going to save the planet one state at a time and in so doing you create vulnerability to your state, so that if it comes under stress with a severe lightning storm, as they did, that this makes it more likely that you will have a total blackout.”
According to the Guardian newspaper, Joyce’s assertions had no basis of truth at all: “Just before the blackout occurred, windfarms were producing about half the state’s electricity demand – they were not shut down as a result of the high winds. And ElectraNet, the owner of the downed high-voltage lines, made clear the blackout was caused by the storm damage to their network.”
Much to Joyce’s chagrin, South Australia invited Tesla to build a battery for the grid to kick in when there are power outages or spikes in demand. This thing is huge – 100 Megawatts of storage capacity. Once more, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk gave a guarantee – it would be installed in under 100 days or the state could have it for nothing. Just try building a coal fired power plant at that speed!
One of the reasons that the battery could be installed so quickly is that the units are roughly the same dimensions as shipping containers. This meant that they could be sent across the Pacific from the factory in the United States on regular container line services. While this particular system doesn’t sit within shipping containers, as other grid batteries do, it did mean that the batteries could be sent over to Australia very quickly and plugged in to the grid.
The day before the official opening of the battery by South Australia Premier Jay Weatherill, there was a spike in demand for energy caused by the weather temperature getting too high and thousands of locals turning up their air conditioning systems. This could have caused a blackout. According to News.com.au, “The world’s largest lithium-ion battery, built by tech billionaire Elon Musk, responded quickly last week when the coal-fired Loy Yang power plant tripped and went offline. The battery delivered 100 megawatts into the national electricity grid in 140 milliseconds. State energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said, “Torrens Island power station would take half an hour to an hour to energise and synchronise into the market; the battery can do it in milliseconds.””
In short, not only can a battery power station be installed in just a few months, it embarrasses fossil fuel energy systems by responding to power demand spikes quicker than the blink of an eye. What was Barnaby Joyce complaining about when it comes to renewable energy…?
Emergency power in the Caribbean
The US island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean was hammered by hurricanes in the middle of 2017. The Federal Emergency Management Agency swung slowly into action – so slowly that a war of words broke out between the Governor of Puerto Rico and President Donald Trump. Whatever the reasons for the delays, people had no power, fresh water or sewerage treatment due to the decimation of the islands’ infrastructure. They urgently needed to rebuild, and the US government wasn’t in a hurry to help.
While Trump was name calling in his inimitable way, someone seems to have got on the phone to Tesla. Elon Musk donated $250,000 to the relief effort and offered to help out. The first thing shipped out was Tesla PowerWall and solar panel units to get power to key areas and ultimately to help stabilise the situation.
The next step was to help make Puerto Rico energy self-sufficient. According to Electrek, “Tesla was apparently able to quickly deploy the batteries with full inverter and Powerpack systems on Vieques… The battery systems are being deployed at critical locations, like a sanitary sewer treatment plant, the Arcadia water pumping station, the Ciudad Dorada elderly community, the Susan Centeno hospital, and the Boys and Girls Club of Vieques.”
While patching up energy supplies after the hurricane, the local authorities are also building for the future. The Electrek blog again: “It was also reported that Puerto Rico was considering Tesla’s plan for a series of microgrids to help bring back power on a larger scale. The government has now confirmed that they “presented several projects in remote areas that would allow entire communities to be more independent” and they also “presented a proposal to the Authority for Public-Private Partnerships for the deployment of a large-scale battery system designed to help stabilize the entire Puerto Rico electricity network.”
The size of the modules – that of a shipping container – enabled rapid deployment so while politicians bicker and flame each other on Twitter, Tesla can quietly move in and do the job that Federal authorities are unable – or unwilling – to do.
Building for a green future – San Diego
California is a very ‘European’ US state. Very like European nations its public wants cleaner air and almost without exception its politicians believe in the concept of manmade Climate Change. Right now there is a Bill going through the California legislature committing the state to being powered by 50% renewable energy by 2025 and then 100% by 2050.
There are other pushes for the state too due to issues with natural gas. The BBC reported, “First detected on 23 October, the leak came from one of the 115 wells connected to a massive underground natural gas storage facility, the fifth largest in the US. Seven unsuccessful attempts were made to shut down the billowing plumes of methane and ethane by the owners, Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).
Concerns over the impacts of the spewing gas eventually led to more than 11,000 nearby residents being evacuated as California governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in the area.”
Methane is a nasty climate change gas, in that it is around 10 times as insulative as CO2. Climate change deniers have to face another problem though: the 100,000 tonnes of methane lost from the wells is a significant portion of California’s gas reserves and this could well mean that there are shortages of gas for gas fired power plants in the state. The time has come for CA to build in redundancy to its electricity grid for times of natural gas shortages.
San Diego Gas and Electricity made the move to have a grid battery system installed, which can supply 20,000 households for up to four hours – enough time for a power station to be brought on stream for instance. The state contracted grid battery makers AES Energy Storage to build a 30MW battery storage system in Escondido, just outside of San Diego, the system is situated in shipping containers for ease of expansion.
According to a LinkedIn blog post, “The Escondido system consists of 24 containers hiding nearly 20,000 modules that hold 20 batteries each. SDG&E said it hopes to have 330 MW of energy storage on its system by 2030.”
Quick to build, quick to respond
So, there you have it – power storage systems that can be sent overland or by ship to a location and set up in less time than it would take to pour the foundations of a fossil fuel power plant, and then once in place can respond to spikes in demand in milliseconds where a fossil fuel plant needs half an hour to warm up. Who says that renewable energy can’t stand up to Big Oil?
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