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Utility-scale battery storage plant in California goes offline indefinitely following overheating incident

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

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  • Sep 15, 2021 10:35 am GMT
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When Texas-based Vistra cut the ribbon on the expansion of their plant in Moss Landing, CA on Aug. 19, it meant that the Monterey Bay facility would be the largest battery storage facility in the world. The expansion—a 100MW/400MWH facility—added to their existing 300MW/1,200MWH facility, which they opened on the same site in December 2020. However, now Vistra is looking at a significant issue and their crown as largest operating battery storage facility has been stripped away, for now at least. 

On Sept. 4, around 8pm, local fire teams were called to the plant for a structure fire inside the 300MW facility. When crews arrived, they only found smoke and water-drenched batteries from the facility's fire-suppression system. The 300MW facility, which carried 3/4th of the plant's battery storage capacity is now out of commission for the foreseeable future while Vistra tries to find out what happened. 

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For the utility-scale battery storage facility, this is bad PR. For the state's efforts toward a clean energy grid this is bad news. And for utilities looking to get into battery storage and linking with battery storage facilities, this could be a lesson. 

Vistra's Moss Landing plant uses lithium-ion batteries developed by LG. LG's lithium-ion batteries have been somewhat notorious over the last several years. Between 2017 and 2019, there were more than 23 fires at battery storage facilities, all attributed to lithium-ion batteries and many attributed to LG's products.

The county's industry ministry launched an investigation with the Danish-based DNV-GL, which found that battery storage facilities with lithium-ion batteries were vulnerable to fires for a variety of reasons, including being located near mountains or coastal areas, human error in installation, or overstress by plant operators turning the batteries on full force during the night after only light use during the day.

Given the time and location of the Moss Landing incident, it appears two of these may be at play for Vistra. 

In May, LG recalled all lithium-ion batteries produced between April 2019 and September 2018 because of vulnerabilities to fires. General Motors has had to recall its Chevy Bolt because of complications with the LG lithium-ion batteries. A 2MW battery storage plant in Arizona, which employed lithium-ion batteries, also exploded in April 2019, hospitalizing eight firefighters and seriously injuring four.

For utilities to reach zero carbon or carbon-neutral goals, utility-scale battery storage facilities like the Vistra plant will be crucial to that achievement. However, it appears the technology still has a ways to go and utilities should be cautious before leaning too heavily on the technology at this stage. 

 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Sep 15, 2021

"For utilities to reach zero carbon or carbon-neutral goals, utility-scale battery storage facilities like the Vistra plant will be crucial to that achievement."

Christopher, Vistra's batteries are being charged not by renewables, but by the direct output of Moss Landing Power Plant - the fifth-largest gas plant in California. Due to internal resistance losses, storing gas-fired energy in batteries adds at least 400kg/MWh in carbon emissions to its output - worse than the dirtiest coal plant.

If anyone thinks utility-scale battery storage facilities may be useful for achieving carbon goals, they've got the wrong goal. That of Shell, Chevron, and Sempra Energy is to close Diablo Canyon Power Plant - and unfortunately, their campaign to achieve it is proving remarkably effective.

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