Last October’s rupture in the Aliso Canyon natural gas reservoir released 1.6 million pounds of methane into the atmosphere, leaving a cloud of methane hanging over the Los Angeles basin. To give an idea of what the people trying to shut down the leak were up against, in the wellhead the average upward pressure out of the reservoir was about 2,700 pounds per square inch. When they tried to pump in mud and brine, it just froze, because in accordance with the ideal gas law, the methane coming out was cold. It took four months to shut it down.
The Aliso Canyon reservoir served the peak-demand natural gas power plants supplying LA, and in the aftermath of the leak, authorities closed it down. Just last week, SoCal Gas reached a plea deal with the LA County prosecutor that will result in a grand total of one count of misdemeanor failure to report, and a $4 million fine — all this in light of 2,800 families and two entire schools having to be relocated as a result of the kids getting chronic nosebleeds. Now, as part of the larger-scale cleanup from the leak, parent company SoCal Edison has made another deal — with Tesla Motors this time. Tesla is going to provide Southern California Gas with a huge Tesla battery bank that they can use to soak up peak power demand in LA.
After the Aliso Canyon facility was closed, the state of California told Southern California Edison, among other utilities, to solicit a large-scale energy storage solution that could be deployed and running by December 31, 2016. “Through a competitive process,” which actually means on basis of price per kWh, Tesla was the sole bidder selected to provide a 20MW/80MWh Powerpack system. It will be installed at the Mira Loma substation between LA and San Bernardino.
When the Powerpack is installed, Tesla said in a statement, it will be the largest of its kind — although not for long, as the Los Angeles Times notes. There’s an upcoming energy storage installation in Long Beach, a 100MW system.
Tesla’s Gigafactory, which isn’t yet fully operational, is supposed to double worldwide lithium-ion battery production when it reaches full capacity in 2017. Elon Musk’s involvement in SolarCity and SpaceX all speak to visions of a mostly post-carbon society. Despite this project being pretty sleek and shiny, though, the reach of SolarCity is still limited by the fact that the sun doesn’t shine at night. Until there’s a reliable way to handle demand at all hours, renewable energy won’t take off. It’s time to demonstrate to the public that utility-scale battery backups are viable technology.