Giant batteries saved the grid from failing in California during the heat wave

The batteries not only store renewable energy but also prevent blackouts.
Ameya Paleja
Giant batteries installed across strategic locations in California
Giant batteries installed across strategic locations in California


The state of California is facing one of the worst September heat events in its history. As power demand has spiked, the electric grid has remained largely stable, thanks to the initiative of connecting giant batteries to the grid, Mike Ferry, the director of UC San Diego Center for Energy Research, wrote in the Los Angeles Times this week.

With changing climate, the world has been witnessing some drastic changes. Rivers in Europe dried up last month in what experts believe is the worst drought in 500 years. Closer to home in the U.S., reservoirs have been shrinking, and temperatures have soared during the summer months.

The demand for power shoots up, suddenly sending electrical grids into a tizzy. In 2020, power utilities enacted rolling blackouts to ensure that the grid did not collapse, Energy Storage News said in its recent report. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the grid in California, has also been sending out 'Flex Alerts' since August that warns users of energy shortfall and turn down their usage. The saving grace, however, has been the giant batteries.

California's largest power plant

California began investing in solar power over two decades ago and quickly recognized the roadblocks to shifting to renewable sources of energy. To address the shortcomings, the state was the first in the U.S. to mandate grid energy storage systems in 2010 and has been working over the past decade to build this capacity.

The battery energy storage systems (BESS) consist of giant industrial-scale batteries which can occupy areas larger than a football field and are placed strategically at solar farms and across the state. According to Energy Storage News, CAISO had aimed for a 4GW storage capacity prior to this summer, and although it did not meet this target, in the past few weeks, it has come closer to achieving it, which has paid rich dividends already.

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On September 5, the grid was approaching its capacity when the state's BESS kicked into action and supplied over 3,360 megawatts of power. This is more than the 2,250 MW of peak output the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the state's largest power plant, can manage, Ferry wrote in LA Times.

The big push for renewables paying off

California has been pushing for an increased contribution of renewable energies to power demand and, in the recent past, has achieved the bragging rights to be powered by renewable energies 100 percent.

The inclusion of renewable energy has meant that consumers, as well as industrial users of the grid, are also able to pump back excess energy into the grid. Last year, a smart energy storage provider in California had said that it had sent back up to 500 MWh of power during heatwaves in June, Energy Storage News then reported. This year in August, another company claimed to have supplied 80MW from battery storage available at homes.

Ferry writes that the Californian experience has many lessons for the world at large. Nowhere in the history of the world have grids been supported like this. As prices of solar panels and battery storage systems drop further, the costs of clean energy are now lesser than that generated using fossil fuels.

There couldn't be a better time to switch to renewable energy.

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