Did Tesla’s New Battery Storage Just Turn Fossil Fuels Into Fossils?


Did Tesla Just Bring an End to Fossil Fuels?

Tesla Motors, along with AES Corp., and Altagas, may have just brought an end to fossil fuels—at least, in southern California.

The three companies each recently took substantial battery storage plants online.

“Any one of these projects would have been the largest battery storage facility ever built,” Bloomberg Tech reported. “Combined, they amount to 15 percent of the battery storage installed planet-wide last year.”

So, just what is a battery storage plant?

As opposed to other more common types of energy storage plants, many of which burn natural gas, battery storage plants store excess energy in, you guessed it, batteries. Very massive batteries.

The three new battery storage projects were created to help mitigate future crises like the Aliso Canyon leak in Los Angeles’s Porter Ranch neighborhood, which leaked thousands of tons of methane into the air for four months between late 2015 and early 2016 before it was eventually sealed. The ongoing leak caused numerous families to have to temporarily abandon their homes. Many suffered health issues, loss of wages, and other issues directly related to the leak.

“Tesla moved particularly nimbly, completing in just three months a project that in the past would have taken years,” notes Bloomberg.

All three battery storage projects were completed in less than six months.

“There were teams working out there 24 hours a day, living in construction trailers and doing the commissioning work at two in the morning,” Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel told Bloomberg. “It feels like the kind of pace that we need to change the world.”

Like other nascent alternative energy industries—namely solar and wind—battery storage comprises a significantly small percentage of the grid, having been more expensive than gas-based plants like Aliso Canyon.

But prices for lithium-ion batteries have fallen fast—by almost half just since 2014,” notes Bloomberg. Electric cars, like the ones Tesla Motors have made so desirable, “are largely responsible,” reports Bloomberg, “increasing demand and requiring a new scale of manufacturing for the same battery cells used in grid storage.”

And California, where the three new battery storage plants are now online, could see more dependence on batteries in the near future. Tesla aims to provide 15 gigawatt hours solely out of its battery storage by the 2020s.

“California is mandating that its utilities begin testing batteries by adding more than 1.32 gigawatts by 2020,” explains Bloomberg. “For context, consider this: In 2016, the global market for storage was less than a gigawatt.”

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.