Best of the West: Battery storage booms; A breakthrough in direct air capture; A new form of cloud-seeding; Western states warm to heat pumps; and Conservation polling numbers

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Febuary, 19, 2024. (Photos courtesy of Plus Power, and Boise State Public Radio). 

The critical need for better batteries to store intermittent renewable energy has led to the rapid advancement of battery technology and significantly ramped up storage capacity.  

Battery storage capacity has increased so much in recent years that a solar-plus-storage project in Nevada renewably powered Super Bowl LVIII, the first Super Bowl to be powered entirely by renewable energy. In fact, EDF Energy’s Arrow Canyon project, which contains 75MW of battery storage, could have powered nearly three Super Bowls (Super Bowl LVII required 28MWh of electricity).

Having proven its efficacy, the vast majority – 81% – of new utility-scale electricity generating capacity expected to come online this year will be in the form of solar and battery storage, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s latest Preliminary Monthly Electric Generator Inventory. “We expect U.S. battery storage capacity to nearly double in 2024,” the report said. 

Many of these battery storage projects are landing in the West.

The Edwards & Sanborn Solar and Energy Storage facility, located in California’s share of the Mojave Desert (one of the sunniest places on Earth) recently began operating. Consisting of almost 2 million solar panels, it has 875 megawatts of capacity. It also features 3,287 megawatt-hours of energy storage using over 120,000 batteries, making it the largest single solar and battery energy storage project in the world.

Form Energy was recently awarded a $30 million grant from the California Energy Commission to deploy the state’s first multi-day energy storage system. The project, which is expected to come online by 2025, is aimed to demonstrate the effectiveness of multi-day energy storage to help California meet its renewable energy and zero carbon resource goals while ensuring electric reliability and affordability.

Longroad Energy officially commenced construction on Sun Streams 4, which is also expected to be operational by 2025, boasts a capacity of 377 MWdc PV and 1200 MWh storage making it the largest solar and storage project in Arizona.

Hawaiian Electric recently began operating the Plus Power Kapolei Energy Storage facility (pictured), which includes a Tesla Megapack battery system. With a capacity of 135 megawatts (MW) and 540 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy, these lithium iron phosphate batteries can hold enough power to supply electricity to 17% of the island of Oahu for three hours at peak load or six hours at half load. The system also has additional features like fast frequency response and black start capabilities.

German energy giant RWE recently added three large battery energy storage projects to the company’s U.S. portfolio in Texas and Arizona. These projects represent more than one-third of the company's U.S. renewable energy and storage development pipeline which includes more than 1 GW of storage projects under construction.

Carbon Capture: Researchers at Oregon State University proved the ability of vanadium peroxide molecules to react with and bind to carbon dioxide—an important step toward improved technologies for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

May Nyman, the Terence Bradshaw Chemistry Professor in Oregon State’s College of Science and the leader of one of nine direct air capture projects funded by the Department of Energy, noted that another valuable characteristic of vanadium is that it allows for the comparatively low release temperature of about 200°C for the captured carbon dioxide.

"That's compared to almost 700°C when it is bonded to potassium, lithium or sodium, other metals used for carbon capture," she said. "Being able to rerelease the captured CO2 enables reuse of the carbon capture materials, and the lower the temperature required for doing that, the less energy that's needed and the smaller the cost. There are some very clever ideas about the reuse of captured carbon already being implemented—for example, piping the captured CO2 into a greenhouse to grow plants."

Heat Pumps: Environmental agencies in nine states announced that they will work together to reduce carbon emissions by making electric heat pumps the norm for most new home HVAC equipment sales by 2040. The memorandum of understanding, spearheaded by the inter-agency nonprofit Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management, or NESCAUM, was released today and signed by officials in California, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island. 

According to a new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a majority of Americans (62% to 95% of households, depending upon heat pump efficiency) would see a drop in their energy bills by using a heat pump.

Many have already taken advantage of heat pump technology. The Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute reported that Americans bought 21 percent more heat pumps in 2023 than fossil gas furnaces. That’s the biggest lead heat pumps have opened up over conventional furnaces in the two decades of data available from the trade group.

Could seeding: Idaho Power has been cloud seeding since 2003. State water officials estimate this increases snowpack in basins by 10% on average, providing more water for hydropower and crop irrigation. Over the years, they’ve primarily released one compound into clouds to kickstart crystallization: silver iodide. Idaho Power, however, is now introducing liquid propane, which can seed clouds when the temperature is below 30 degrees F, about seven degrees warmer than silver iodide. The company hopes that this opens up seeding on the front end of winter storms, before the temperature plummets, and that it could extend the winter seeding season a week or two on either end.

Conservation Poll: Colorado College recently released its 14th annual State of the Rockies Project Conservation in the West Poll. The poll, which surveyed the views of voters in eight Mountain West states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), found that 67 percent of voters are worried about the future of land, water, and wildlife. Compared to other issues like the economy, health care, and education, 85 percent of voters in the West – including 74 percent of Republicans, 87 percent of Independents, and 96 percent of Democrats – say issues involving clean water, clean air, wildlife, and public lands are important in deciding whether to support an elected official.

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