California moves forward with high-tech energy storage facility


The nearly $1 billion plants will be able to provide electricity to up to 400,000 homes by storing renewable energy as compressed air.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Energy storage facilities will be an important asset to help decarbonize the electrical grid and the California Energy Commission took a step forward Wednesday by ordering staff to begin the process of certifying a compressed-air energy storage facility in Kern County. Once built it will be one of the largest in the world.

The facility is being built by Hydrostor, a Canada based renewable energy company that develops energy storage systems around the world, and will be called the Gem Energy Storage Facility. The proposed facility would be able to store up to 500 megawatts of compressed air, to be used during peak load times when renewable energy systems are not able to meet demand.

Gem will be built in unincorporated Kern County near the town of Rosamond, an area that has been designated by California as a renewable development area. A number of renewable energy projects are currently in the permitting process for Rosamond and southern Kern County.

“Gem’s quick-starting, flexible and dispatchable long-duration energy supply will have the ability to ramp-up and down through a wide range of electrical output,” Hydrostor said in a statement issued this past December.

The company initially filed an application with the energy commission, though staff found the application incomplete and requested more information. The agency will now produce a staff report, hold public meetings and solicit public comment with the goal of having a staff report complete for the commission to review in 2023.

The facility will help California meet its goals of 100% carbon free electricity by 2045 through large-scale storage. This is just one of the projects Hydrostor has proposed in California; the other facility is a 400-megawatt installation in San Luis Obispo County.

“There are a number of advantages compressed air has over pumped storage,” said Curt Hildebrand, senior vice president commercial affairs for Hydrostor. “We use 10% less water than pumped storage and take up less land. The facility in Kern County will be 100 acres compared to the thousands of acres needed for pumped storage facilities.”

Both pumped storage and compressed-air storage are both ways to store excess electricity created by renewable energy for later use. There are a number of pumped storage projects currently being studied across the western United States and only a handful of compressed-air facilities.

“This will be a big project and will cost $1 billion to build. We are excited to work with the community and we are excited about the progress made today,” Hildebrand said.

The pressed-air facility would have an operating efficiency of 61%, meaning 39% of the energy previously generated would be lost. However, efficiency could increase by the time the plant is operational as technology progresses.

“We look forward to working closely with the citizens of Kern County to earn their trust and support on our way to becoming a valued member of the community,” said Curtis VanWalleghem, chief executive officer for Hydrostor, when announcing the project.

The proposed facility, which can power up to 400,000 homes across California, can reach full operation within 10 minutes.

The project will be up and running by 2026.

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