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NORWALK >> Southern California Edison launched the world’s first hybrid battery and gas turbine power plants Monday that will provide cleaner stopgap power during hot summer months when electricity demand soars.
Officials at an unveiling ceremony in Norwalk called the new plant “the world’s first” and said a second hybrid plant was built in Rancho Cucamonga. Both went online March 30 and Southern California Edison is planning three more plants.
The two gas-turbine plants have been retrofitted with lithium ion battery technology that can power the plant instantaneously, reducing warm-up time to nearly zero seconds and dropping emissions by 60 percent. Ordinary gas-turbine plants that run only when needed can take up to 12 hours to ramp up, while spewing emissions that cause lung-damaging smog and greenhouse gases that exacerbate global climate change, air quality and energy, officials said.
The schedule for retrofitting SCE’s three other “peaker” plants has not yet been released.
“It is truly the first utility plant in the country that combines existing gas-turbine technology with battery storage,” said Jill Whynot, deputy executive officer with the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Whynot also mentioned the benefits of relying more on battery power than natural gas, in light of the 2015 gas leak at Southern California Gas’s Aliso Canyon gas storage facility in Porter Ranch. About 100,000 metric tons of methane had escaped in 112 days — making it the largest atmospheric release in U.S. history, equaling the amount of greenhouse emissions from half a million passenger cars. The Gas Co. has said without reopening the facility, a shortage of natural gas could lead to a shortage of electrical power.
• PHOTOS: Edison builds world’s first battery-gas hybrid power plants in Norwalk, Rancho Cucamonga
The concern led SCE and its partner, General Electric, to fast-track the hybrid battery-gas power plants that were done in only a few months.
In a field behind a miniature golf course, a building about half the size of a football field produces 10 megawatts of power using 2,304 lithium-ion batteries containing 18,432 cells. In comparison, an iPhone has one 5-volt cell.
“You can think of this as a much bigger version of a plug-in hybrid automobile,” explained SCE President Ron Nichols.
If the plant is needed, battery power is used first. Next, the batteries power the gas turbines that make electricity. The 10-year-old Norwalk plant off Firestone Boulevard can supply enough power for 45,000 homes. More than that, the 50 MW hybrid plant can alter the power choices from the California ISO, which distributes 75,000 megawatts of power every day from 23 different electrical systems.
Instead of running more polluting natural gas plants, Cal-ISO can keep the hybrid plants operating longer, lowering fuel usage and power rates for customers, according to SCE officials. Normally, a peaker plant operates about 10 percent of the year. SCE figures the hybrid plants can operate much longer, up to 100 percent if needed.
“A battery is like bacon. It makes everything better,” quipped Jeff Wiener, sales executive for energy storage at GE. His sales team is marketing the product to China and Australia, he said.
• VIDEO: Edison builds world’s first battery-gas hybrid power plants in Norwalk, Rancho Cucamonga
Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, who also attended the event, said she and Gov. Jerry Brown will spread this technology abroad in an effort to attach solutions to promises made by foreign leaders to cut greenhouse gases.
“This is one of the things we are going to talk about when we go to China,” Nichols said.
With the sate approaching 50 percent of its electrical power from renewable energy such as wind and solar, GHG reductions occur during the day. But Cal-ISO needs to fill in with other, often more polluting power plants at night when solar drops off and when wind power decreases.
The paradox — clean energy supplanted by fossil-fuel burning plants — is a problem. Cal-ISO Vice President Tom Doughty said battery storage and hybrid plants are a promising solution.
“It is no longer enough to build capacity. The new coin of the realm is flexibility. That is exactly what this plant provides us,” Doughty said.
Ron Nichols said California Public Utility Commission rules require SCE to keep the cost of the project a secret for three years, in order to promote unbiased bidding on future projects.
Some experts from smaller utilities estimated the cost at slightly less than $20 million. But the price could go down as the technology expands, according to sources who asked not to be named.
Nichols said SCE is paying for the entire cost of the two projects. SCE received no state or federal grant money, he said.