Putting Tesla to the Test

by Ethan Fukuto

The Aliso Canyon gas leak of 2015 in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley caused not only an environmental crisis—fuel shortages affected the region’s supply and source of energy. The crisis was a turning point for Southern California’s energy industry, the start of an experiment in the use of batteries to meet energy demands. Tesla’s contribution to the effort, 396 batteries at Mira Loma in the city of Ontario, went online on the 30th of January and is capable of providing power to around 15,000 homes for four hours. The batteries themselves are built at Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, and the company’s process of vertical integration now means each component of the battery is built in-house. They are designed to store energy during the day and release at night during times of highest demand in the evening. California’s increasing demand and funding for renewable energy projects allowed the Mira Loma project to come together in just a few months’ time, with the threat of climate change and the impending closure of the last of California’s nuclear plants pushing the industry towards alternative sources of renewable energy. Battery stations are an easy fit into Southern California’s energy infrastructure and regulations, bypassing the environmental reviews, generators, and water and fuel supplies generally required for new power plants. Batteries are expensive, comparable to natural gas plants, however California’s investment in renewable energy sources in the past, such as solar, has lowered costs for other markets. Investing in batteries follows California’s future-facing model in energy, heading, ideally, towards a decreased dependence on natural gas. Though batteries are not entirely without their own set of problems: Samsung’s recall of their Galaxy Note 7 phone brought to light the potential hazard for battery fires or explosions if not properly assembled or maintained. A battery project in Oahu, Hawaii, for instance, caught fire three times in 2012, and any incidents in California’s battery stations may lead to decreased funding and support for such projects. Regardless, Tesla’s investment in batteries and California’s support point towards a more sustainable future.

Sources

Cardwell, Diane. “Tesla Gives the California Power Grid a Battery Boost”. New York Times (30 January 2017). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/business/energy-environment/battery-storage-tesla-california.html

Cardwell, Diane & Krauss, Clifford. “A Big Test for Big Batteries”. New York Times (14 January 2017). https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/14/business/energy-environment/california-big-batteries-as-power-plants.html

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