California Jumpstarts Energy Storage

, Senior energy analyst | October 18, 2013, 12:20 pm EDT
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One of the biggest challenges of relying on large quantities of renewable energy has to do with the fact that we can’t control when renewables actually generate electricity. When the wind blows, we get electricity, period. When the sun sets, our solar panels cannot provide the electricity we need at night. That is, of course, unless we capture the energy and store it for later use.

Forms of energy storage, such as pumped hydropower, are being used in limited ways today, but storage resources do not exist in large quantities on our electricity grid. Thanks to a decision approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on Thursday, that is about to change.

Utilities to invest in 1.3 GW of energy storage

Battery storage facility. Photo: Duke Energy

Battery storage facility. Photo: Duke Energy

The decision requires the three investor-owned utilities (IOUs) in the state — Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas and Electric — to invest in 1.3 gigawatts by the end of 2020. This is roughly enough storage to power nearly 1 million homes.

There are many different forms of energy storage. The CPUC’s decision is technology neutral, which means the IOUs must weigh the various costs and benefits of different technologies as they make investment decisions.

For example, flywheels provide near-instant bouts of storage, while batteries take longer to “charge” and provide more storage capacity.

Both forms of storage are valuable during different times of the day and night.  Those who wish to dig deeper into the costs and benefits of different technologies should check out reports recently released from the Electric Power Research Institute and DNV KEMA that both go into great detail on the subject.

There’s no question that requiring utilities to purchase energy storage is cutting edge. The lessons learned from these investments will provide important information to help guide future cost-effective investments in storage. Once again, California is out in front, taking a leadership role in finding new ways to maximize the potential of clean energy generation.



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  • Laura Wisland

    Hi Thomas,

    Thanks for your interest in my blog. Molten salt and flywheels are two additional types of energy storage that I did not mention in the blog. This DOE presentation has some interesting descriptions of DOE funded projects (start on slide 17):



  • The Equation reports that “There are many different forms of energy storage.” I can think of three: batteries, as in the huge Duke Energy unit in the photo; hydroelectric storage, and air compression storage. But are there others? What about utilization of the methods: who is doing it? And what about relative costs? This topic would be ideal for a future UCS report.

  • Laura Wisland

    Thanks for your comment, Richard. I will keep you guys updated as this policy rolls out. The CPUC just released the final text of the storage decision (the blog had a link to the proposed decision)which can be accessed here:

  • Richard

    As a Californian I must admit that I am particularly pleased that the PUC here has made this decision. More importantly, though, is the fact that some people in our country are trying to lead the way into the next steps needed for renewables to become more viable.

    Thank you for highlighting it. I look forward to reading more about this in upcoming posts.