ULI San Francisco Blog

Why California Building Owners Need to Consider Energy Storage

The following post is a recap of ULI San Francisco’s recent program “The Benefits of Energy Storage and CRE.” 

While Tesla’s Gigafactory may not yet be fully operational, the global energy storage market has taken off and continues to gain momentum as building owners and utilities recognize the potential financial and reliability benefits. And unlike the battles over solar, energy storage is shaping up to be a win-win for both CRE users and utilities.

But this was not always the case, according to Janice Lin, Chairperson of the Global Energy Storage Alliance. Just a few years ago, Southern California Edison was one of the staunchest opponents of energy storage, yet now they are advocating for 10 gigawatts of storage deployment in California by 2030.

“It all boils down to optimizing the aging, massive asset we refer to as ‘the grid,’” said Lin. “When energy supply is out of balance with energy demand, utilities are forced to dispatch additional resources, or peaker plants, and ultimately build more capacity”. Then California shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and plans to shutter Diablo Canyon, its final remaining nuclear asset, removing over 4 gigawatts of generation capacity. Add in the rise of renewable energy generation, an often intermittent and unpredictable power source, and you have a situation that is ripe for energy storage.

Drew Torbin, CEO of Black Bear Energy, has been busy since he founded his firm in 2015, particularly in Southern California. “If you’re a building owner in California and not in a municipal utility, there’s a great chance you should be considering storage. Orange County is the hottest of hot spots right now.”

Much of this work has been with Sara Neff, Senior Vice President of Sustainability, and her portfolio within Kilroy Realty Corporation. She noted that projects in Southern California have shown great financial returns thanks to utility incentives, but even properties in Northern California have fared well. “You can tie yourself up in knots trying to figure out how and when to best deploy storage”, said Neff, “but if it makes sense now, do it!”

Indeed, costs have declined substantially over the past six years and are expected to continue declining as the market matures. As for selecting a storage consultant, Neff said the ones that she selects are the ones who make an effort to learn Kilroy’s business because REITs present their own challenges to finance and contracting.

While the market and incentives continue to evolve, one thing you can control is the company you select, according to Torbin. “You may not be able to pick the race, but you can pick the horse. And call their references.”

By Darin Bernstein

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