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How California Wildfires Are Driving Energy Storage Beyond Lithium-Ion

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California needs batteries. When California is on fire, it needs batteries that can keep a home, a hospital, a fire station, a senior center running longer than the four-hour standard of lithium-ion.

“What’s happened that’s brought this to bear has been the wildfires and the contingency issues we have in the PSPS (public-safety power shut-off) events,” said Mike Gravely, research program manager for the California Energy Commission.

“In November of last year over two million resident people in California were impacted by wildfire PSPS events” in which utilities shut down portions of the grid to prevent equipment from sparking fires during flammable conditions. “The average short outage was 11 hours, and some of it went as high as three to five days.”

During those outages, senior centers and hospitals have relied on diesel generators to supply electricity for critical-care equipment, but during wildfires, diesel fuel can also be hard to come by.

The likely answer is microgrids.

“Microgrids are a big topic,” Gravely said in a webinar hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance, “and energy storage is a key element of all micro grids.”

What California needs has outsized significance in the energy-storage industry. The state expects to install 2,400 megawatts of energy storage in the next two years, a market-driving number that is, even so, a mere fraction of the 20,000 to 30,000 MW Gravely expects the state to need by 2045.

Lithium-ion’s seeming limitation