Battery Storage Undergoes Rapid Growth, Despite Risks

By Heather van Blokland
Published: Monday, April 29, 2019 - 9:16am
Updated: Monday, April 29, 2019 - 9:30am

Power lines
Jackie Hai/KJZZ

Last week’s explosion in Surprise at a lithium-ion battery storage plant was the first in the United States, pushing regulators to create new safety standards. But, despite this, the industry is not slowing down its growth or development.

Lithium-ion batteries have a market advantage, rapidly becoming one of the least expensive sources of power and power storage.

“Battery storage has gone from being a fringe technology to support the grid to now something that’s increasingly a mainstream part of the investment portfolio for regulated utilities,” said Jason Burwen is with the Energy Storage Association. He said the recent decision by the Arizona Corporation Commission to look at energy storage is about cost.

Costs have fallen to a level where batteries can compete against conventional power plants, and everyone from solar developers to utilities to homeowners are buying them to shore up intermittent renewable energy supplies.

Over the last eight years, battery costs have declined by 80 percent, and costs decline eight to 10 percent each year, he said.

“Once you have that, that allows you to save money, by not having to invest in as much spare capacity in the form of power plants and wires to still service the peak demands on the system,” Burwen said.

Last year, battery storage passed the one-gigawatt mark operating across the U.S., or 1000 megawatts.

“...And that’s what's kind of happening in the southwest part of the country, where a lot of the solar fields out there are starting to add in energy storage so you can actually have solar power at night,” said Roger Lin with NEC Energy Solutions.

He said while lithium-ion batteries are volatile, the National Fire Protection Association is about to release new safety standards that will standardize and account for a rapidly growing industry in metro and rural environments.

He said the scale of these batteries are changing, that they're now much larger and cover much bigger areas — and the growth is happening much faster because the energy demands need it.

APS has stated a goal of adding 850 megawatts of storage by 2025 — enough to light up more than 600,000 homes at once.

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