Batteries Help Keep Catalina’s Lights On

The workhorse battery energy storage system will soon celebrate five years on the island.

  • By Jude Schneider
  • August 22, 2017

Providing electricity to Catalina Island is both a challenge and an opportunity. A challenge because the island is 22 miles from the nearest connection to the mainland’s electrical grid. An opportunity because innovation is keeping the lights on, and that innovation can lead to advancements across the grid. 

A case in point is Catalina’s battery energy storage system. Put into service on Aug. 26, 2012, it is one of the longest-operating battery energy storage systems of its kind in the country, and it has a significant role in powering Catalina.

“In the energy storage discussion, we are often looking at the suggested potential of the various technologies — what we think energy storage could be capable of,” said Phil Herrington, vice president of Generation for Southern California Edison, which provides power to the island. “What is fascinating about this system is it is a workhorse that has been serving Catalina for the equivalent, in energy storage years, of a generation or two, and all the while it has been supporting cleaner and more efficient operations.”

Catalina is served exclusively by SCE’s one generating facility located near the island’s only city, Avalon. It provides all of the energy for the island’s 4,000 residents and 1 million visitors each year. Currently, that energy is generated by six diesel generators and 23 low-emission combustion turbines. 

Catalina Battery Storage
Ron Hite, SCE senior manager of operations in Catalina, stands outside SCE’s battery energy storage system.  

The challenge is that each individual diesel generator must operate at a minimum of 80 percent of capacity for its emissions reduction equipment to function. The 1 megawatt/7.2 megawatt-hour battery system addresses this by storing the excess energy generated overnight when energy demand is lower than 80 percent. During the day, the batteries feed this energy back onto the Catalina power grid. 

Using the battery this way reduces emissions on the island while improving the efficiency of the system. 

The chemistry of these molten, salt-based batteries provides large energy output over an extended time in a very small footprint, making them ideal for Catalina’s small generating facility. Most other systems in SCE’s service territory use the more common lithium-ion systems.

“As we move forward, we are looking to add more renewable energy on the island to continue our mission to find clean energy solutions for our customers and the environment,” said Ron Hite, SCE senior manager of Operations, who has been responsible for water and power on Catalina for 12 years.

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