February 18, 2021: CIT Group’s announcement on February 11 that it was arranging a portfolio of six battery storage systems with a total output of 230MW for the southern US state of Texas will no doubt be welcomed in a state that has seen at least five million people suffering from power blackouts over several days, with no end in sight for some.
Supply fell short by about 3.4GW, ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages about 90% of the state’s electricity) said, which means the amount of battery capacity outlined by CIT Group would have to be increased 150-fold to meet demand.
The batteries, three of which are already operational, are owned by Key Capture Energy, which has an overall development pipeline of 2.5GW in New York and New England, as well as Texas. The other three should be completed this year.
The growing need for energy storage has been dramatically exposed in the frozen state, with at least five million people experiencing power blackouts for days as rare winter storms have caused temperatures to plummet to as low as minus 13°C (8.6°F).
The average temperature for February in the state is around 13°C, or 55°F, but temperatures are still hovering around zero and for thousands the lights had still not been switched back on as we went to press.
Claims have been coming from different quarters as to why the power seized up, with some saying wind turbines froze, others blaming coal and natural gas station failures, others claiming it was the amount of snow and ice dumped on equipment not designed to withstand it.
“No matter which way you cut it, this is a massive failure for a grid and a state that holds up energy and electricity as a shining example,” the USA Today newspaper quoted Varun Rai, director of the Energy Institute at the University of Texas-Austin, as saying.
At a news conference on February 16 the paper said ERCOT admitted 4.5GW of energy had gone offline, with a third of that from wind, the rest being gas and coal.
It is early days for battery installations across the state, but already Texas is ranked fourth in the country for battery capacity.
On January 7, Chinese battery giant CATL and Californian energy storage firm FlexGen said they would be increasing capacity by 220MWh with the installation of two standalone 110MWh batteries in the state, which are earmarked as dispatchable assets for a leading independent power producer.
Jason Burwen, interim CEO of the US Energy Storage Association, said the rolling power outages demonstrated how urgent the need for resilience was.
“Once this emergency is over, we have to recognize that adapting to new weather extremes while mitigating climate change is our our energy system’s most pressing challenge,” he said.
“Energy storage is a fundamental solution to meeting this challenge. Accelerating decarbonization and increasing resilience will only occur with diversification of energy storage technologies and deployment at an unprecedented scale. At least 100GW is needed to drive the clean energy transition and transform the electric system to handle 21st century demands.”