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At the moment, utilities are just beginning to use pilot projects to explore how bigger batteries might help them use the nation’s increasingly congested electric highway.
Fittingly, most of these pilots explore the storage uses of lithium-ion batteries. They were invented in the United States and languished for years until Sony Corp., the Japanese electronics company, commercialized them to power tiny machines like video cameras and cassette players.
Soon, they were bringing more power and longer life to cellphones, power tools and model airplanes. And these led to more ambitious commercial experiments. In 2006, Tesla put 6,800 lithium-ion model airplane batteries under the hood of a kit-built roadster. That led to Tesla’s first car, the sporty Tzero, and a small but accelerating movement in the auto industry toward the plug-in electric vehicle.
AES, the Arlington, Va., company that is designing the 100 MW battery to store power for the western region of Los Angeles, was the first to take the next and probably the most ambitious and expensive leap by bringing lithium-ion car batteries to power one of the world’s biggest machines: the North American power grid.
For reference, the output of 100 MW is roughly a tenth of the power delivered by a modern nuclear power plant.
“We tend to not be focused on pilots, but on more commercial ventures,” explained Zahurancik, president of the company’s storage unit.
The parent company owns and operates power plants in 17 countries around the world. It has the money, the expertise and the ambition to create new businesses and partnerships. One of the partners in its earlier grid project, which was based in West Virginia, was A123 Systems LLC, a Waltham, Mass., developer and manufacturer of advanced lithium-ion car and bus batteries.