Op-Ed: California’s giant new batteries kept the lights on during the heat wave
With California facing one of its worst electrical crises in decades, Los Angeles Times staff photographer Steven Green recently spent time with a group of Southern California Edison officials to find out what the utility is doing to keep the lights on during what could turn out to be the most harrowing period of its history.
L.A. Times file photo
The state’s largest utility has built huge lithium-ion battery storage plants, some of the largest in the world, which can keep the lights on when the power plant is producing too little electricity or too much, so it can be turned off to let the massive generators that produce much more electricity fill the gap.
“They do it by turning the big generators on and off, and the big generators are the biggest, heaviest, most expensive generators,” said Dave Lutz, a utility engineer who spent the day with Edison and other officials with the grid operator, the California Independent System Operator. “It saves a huge amount of energy.”
Lutz was among a group of utility officials who toured the new plants, which can store up to 20 times more energy than a traditional battery. When California needs electricity the hardest, the system operator is able, at peak hours, to reduce the demand on the grid by turning off the power plants at the best price and using the storage batteries instead.
During the heat wave, when demand for electricity was especially high, the system could have been overwhelmed, with the electric grid in the Golden State unable to keep up with the power demands.
But thanks to the huge battery plants, L.A. Edison has been able to keep the lights on during the crisis, and now the utility is preparing for even more severe weather, as summer in Southern California is approaching.
One hundred and twenty-one of the huge lithium-ion battery plants that the utility has built through a public-private partnership are in the works for the next decade.
“We’re just scratching the surface,” said Lutz, who is based in San Diego. “There are millions and millions of dollars in