Turning to intelligent battery energy storage

 By Andrew Burger

Utilities and leading developers of natural gas power plants, as well as those dedicated to providing diesel fuel power generation, are taking a page from the renewable energy-clean tech playbook…

(Cover image from

They’re supplementing and upgrading primary, secondary and emergency back-up natural gas, diesel and other fossil fuel power generation with intelligent, stationary — primarily lithium-ion — battery energy storage capacity.
With government support for solar and wind energy waning, rising production and sharply declining costs are leading a growing numbers of utilities, as well as their business and residential customers, to combine solar and wind power generation with intelligent, lithium-ion battery energy storage. That’s got power utilities and providers of natural gas, conventional diesel, propane and other hydrocarbon-fueled generation standing up and taking notice.

Imperial Irrigation District lithium-ion battery energy storage facility (Jay Calderon,

You don’t operate a power grid, build a natural gas power plant or install a diesel fuel generation system without knowing something, well a lot of things, about power, energy and how to acquire new technology, skills and abilities. Leading natural gas and fossil-fuel power and energy technology and systems vendors, such as U.S.-based GE, Finland’s Wartsila and the U.K.’s Aggreko, are taking advantage of the wide range of energy services the latest generation of intelligent lithium-ion battery energy storage and management systems offer.

The fuel of choice

Natural gas has emerged as the fuel of choice for utilities in the U.S. over the past decade. Booming production of “unconventional” natural gas from enormous, hydrocarbon-rich shale deposits has kept prices low.

Natural gas production and prices in 2015 (

This has taken place in parallel with a boom in non-hydro renewable energy investment and deployment – primarily solar and wind power capacity, which have been the fastest growing sources of new power generation in the U.S. in recent years.

Annual share of U.S. electricity generation by source 1950-2016 (EIA)

Today’s network-connected stationary lithium-ion battery storage systems are proving much more efficient, much faster in terms of responding to fluctuating grid conditions and much more efficient when it comes to starting cold, ramping up and then ramping back down power dispatch than even the fastest responding natural gas power plants. Hence, they are very well suited to serve as emergency “spinning reserves” that can be called on when all other forms of grid-connected generation assets fail, as well as to provide ancillary grid services, such as voltage and frequency regulation.
Expanding on this list, solar PV-lithium-ion battery storage systems offer advantages when it comes to serving as either primary or emergency back-up power assets for remote, isolated commercial or industrial sites, e.g. telecommunications towers, mines, factories and farms, as well as off-grid or poorly served communities and on up in scale to entire islands.
By combining lithium-ion battery storage with natural gas power generation, they can offer utilities the same flexibility and prospective range of benefits as solar or wind power-battery energy storage systems vendors. The added benefit enables them to leverage and enhance investments in existing power and energy assets that provide continuous, 24×7 baseload electrical power.

Faster, more efficient and flexible natural gas power generation

The Imperial Irrigation District, GE Power, ZPower and Coachella Energy Storage Partners achieved a power industry milestone this May when they restarted Imperial’s 44-MW El Centro combined cycle natural gas power plant and utility power grid using an on-site 30-MW/20-MWh lithium-ion battery-based energy storage system.

IID El Centro power station, California (

California has emerged as a critical proving ground and market leader when it comes to utility-scale energy storage. GE completed what was said to be the world’s first utility-scale hybrid battery-gas turbine system in Norwalk, California, for Southern California Edison in April. The system consists of two 50-MW LM6000 gas turbines and a 10-MW, 4.3-MWh intelligent lithium ion battery storage system.
GE has installed four such units in four California “pollution non-attainment zones.” Reducing climate-warming carbon gas emissions isn’t the only, and typically not the primary, attribute leading utilities and natural gas power equipment vendors to turn to the latest in intelligent battery energy storage technology, however.
Fast response, high efficiency, flexible scalability and reduced emissions are increasingly at a premium, particularly in power markets where “time of use” pricing has been, or is being instituted, and where variable wind, solar and other renewable power capacity is high.
Government officials and regulators are spurring market and industry evolution onward. They’re reforming existing and instituting new market rules and regulations that are opening up opportunities to “stack” multiple battery-based energy storage services. That’s enhancing market economics by creating more avenues to monetize them, i.e. generate revenues and earn profits.

Large demand for flexible generation

Finland’s Wartsila in July signed a memorandum of understanding with Southern Power, the independent, unregulated power and energy services subsidiary of Southern Co., one of the largest U.S. power utilities, to build two flexible gas-fired power plants. Each may reach 450-MW in power capacity.
“In the USA we are seeing a large demand for flexible generation, and Wartsila provides the most efficient and fastest starting solution making this the ideal investment for customers to serve the need for flexibility,” Wartsila Energy Solutions’ president Javier Cavada was quoted as saying.

Example configuration of a Wärtsilä hybrid power plant (

Similar developments have been taking place among providers of conventional diesel or propane-fueled generation capacity.
In addition to serving as primary generation assets for a wide range of end users – wireless/mobile telecoms services providers, commercial and industrial companies, medical, educational and other public service institutions – diesel or propane gen-sets are widely used by home and business owners, public services and government agencies in towns and cities worldwide — from New Delhi, India on to Nairobi, Kenya, San Juan, Puerto Rico and across Alaska.

New Delhi apartment complex natural gas-diesel generator, Indraprastha Gas Limited (

One of the world’s pioneering developers of advanced battery energy storage systems and smart microgrid developers, Germany’s Younicos, recently announced it was being acquired by Scotland’s Aggreko for approximately $52 million.
Aggreko is a longstanding international provider of conventional off-grid and grid-connected generation platforms, as well as facility energy management and climate control technology and systems. Management has been taking the company in a new strategic direction in recent years based on growing demand for distributed renewable energy solutions on the part of customers.
“This acquisition strengthens our position as global energy markets continue to evolve and is in line with our strategy to invest in technology in order to reduce the cost of energy for our customers,” management explained.
It hasn’t taken long for grid-connected natural gas generators or off-grid diesel generators to catch on to the benefits advanced battery-based energy storage systems can provide. Furthermore, they’re doing so at a propitious moment — performance continues to improve and further costs declines are anticipated. There’s likely to be a lot more cross-pollination among participants in these energy sectors down the line.

READ MORE: Powering the energy storage revolution by Mike Scott

about the author
Andrew Burger
Andrew Burger has been reporting on energy, technology, political economy, climate and the environment for a variety of online media properties for over five years.