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Inside construction of the world's largest lithium ion battery storage facility

The largest battery storage system in the world will also be one of the fastest constructed in history.

In August, San Diego Gas & Electric tapped energy storage company AES to install two energy storage projects totaling 37.5 MW, 150 MWh. When completed, the larger, 120 MWh project is expected to be the single biggest lithium ion battery in service on a utility grid in the world.

Both battery facilities are expected to be online by the end of January 2017 — nothing short of miraculous in an industry where deploying assets, especially newfangled technologies, can take years.

And the companies are not alone. Southern California Edison and Tesla announced a 30 MW, 80 MWh project in September that is expected to be online even sooner, and will be the largest operating battery for a time.

The accelerated deployment comes in response to an unprecedented shortage of natural gas for electricity generation in southern California. Last October, a leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility outside Los Angeles caused it to be shut down, constricting fuel supplies for area plants.

Fearing blackouts, the California Public Utilities Commission quickly mandated a series of mitigation measures, including an expedited procurement for local energy storage resources. The more renewable energy that can be stored during the day, the reasoning went, the less need to fire up fossil fuel generators as electricity demand increases in the evening.

The CPUC order directed the utilities to identify storage projects that could be sited, constructed and put into operation in only a few months. Though the regulators said storage resources must be "cost-effective" compared to other local capacity products, no pricing details for the projects have been released.

At first, the order only concerned Southern California Edison, whose service territory includes the affected area. But when the procurement was expanded to include SDG&E, storage company officials said the utility was ready to hit the ground running, thanks in part to a previous CPUC order to procure 165 MW of storage in its territory.

“They were already looking at storage and understood the technology,” Brian Perusse, vice president for international market development at AES told Utility Dive during a visit to the 120 MWh battery in Escondido. “They were doing things before this ever came on the radar and nothing would have happened at this speed had they not already been doing things.”

The expedited deployment is testing the mettle of both utility and developer — pushing them to condense the typically year-long siting and construction process into just a few months. But executives say the gas crisis could help prove that energy storage can serve needs on the bulk power system, potentially becoming a viable replacement for gas peaker plants. And the lessons from the speedy installation could help build confidence in long-duration storage and boost the sector around the world.

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