We need somewhere to put the energy solar generates once the sun goes down.
We need somewhere to put the energy solar generates once the sun goes down.
Photo: Getty

The U.S. just saw its biggest purchase of energy storage ever. California utility Southern California Edison signed seven contracts last week to launch several energy storage projects totaling 770 megawatts to come online in 2021. It’s a huge step, one that dwarfs all the storage purchased last year across the entire country.

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This piece in the renewable energy puzzle is critical to successfully transitioning to a clean energy economy. Solar and wind can only provide power during specific times of the day when the sun shines or the wind blows. But they often create more energy than we need during those periods. To help reduce intermittency—and thus the need for fossil fuels—that energy needs to be stored so we can use it at all times of the day.

The new round of projects the SCE is buying will change the face of battery storage in the U.S. California leads the nation in battery storage, but this will triple the storage capacity the state had as of March 2019. The storage projects are also larger than the 523 megawatts of storage deployed across the U.S. in 2019.

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Though this is a massive buy-in to energy storage, the utility is separating each contract into separate projects that’ll be located near each other and store power from the same solar plant.

The SCE project is a major milestone, and it’s not the only recent storage breakthrough. Last March, Florida Power and Light announced the Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish, Florida. It’ll also begin operating in 2021 with the capacity to store 409 megawatts, making it the largest solar storage project in the world. According to the utility, it’s the equivalent of 100 million iPhone batteries.

Even before the SCE announcement, the Energy Storage Association, an industry trade group, projected that 7.3 gigawatts of new storage were set to come online by 2025. These batteries are critical to moving forward toward a carbon-free future. Right now, many utilities rely on gas to fill in the gap left behind by renewables, but solving the climate crisis requires abandoning all fossil fuels. That means going renewable, baby. Just last week, a utility in the United Arab Emirates set a record for the cheapest solar farm. Now that the fossil fuel sector is dying, it’s becoming clearer that there’s never been a better time to invest in renewables, too.

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Senior staff writer, Earther. All things environmental justice, please. I'm addicted to Stardew and love few things more than I love my cat.

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