CEC Okays Big Green Energy Grants, More Diesel Backup Looms

14 Apr 2021

The California Energy Commission approved $73 million in grants for clean energy projects, ranging from advanced communications within batteries for fast electric vehicle charging, flexible demand response, to green microgrids.

The five commissioners also moved closer April 14 to voting on two more big diesel backup generator projects at data centers. The decisive vote on whether to exempt the generators from state permitting hasn’t been scheduled yet. The determination is supposed to be based on the significance of the diesel projects’ environmental impact.

One of the planned diesel installations would provide up to 96 MW at Amazon’s data services facility in Gilroy during outages. This week, the CEC created a committee to review the proposal submitted Dec. 17.

Source: California Energy Commission

The other project is 96.5 MW of diesel power at the Sequoia data center in the City of Santa Clara. State and regional air quality regulators objected to the commission’s analysis of projected air pollution impacts, saying it minimizes the risk. The CEC later said if it decides to grant a permit exemption for the 54 diesel units, the company will have to install lower-polluting tier 4 units.

Evelyn Loya with SoCalGas highlighted the pollution created by diesel backup as compared to natural gas or green hydrogen powered fuel cell microgrids. Public shutoffs in 2019 resulted in six extra tons of harmful nitrogen oxides per day from diesel backup, the South Coast Air Quality Management District reported. That is worse than the state’s largest oil refinery, Loya said.

Somewhat ironically, earlier the same day the commissioners approved the 2020 Integrated Energy Policy Report update on the role of non-polluting microgrids. The report’s recommendations include continuing to research clean alternatives to backup diesel generation and strategic locations where they should support fire, policy, and emergency response agencies. No reference was made to the fact the commission has been approving diesel projects and has two majors new ones pending.

Later in the meeting, the grants approved by the CEC included $3.3 million to All Power Labs to develop a novel dispatchable biomass energy microgrid.

EPIC is the “crown jewel”

The Commission also signed off on its 2020 Energy Program Investment Charge investments that support innovative clean energy projects. “This is the crown jewel of the Energy Commission,” David Hochschild, CEC chair, said of the EPIC program.

EPIC has provided $834 million to support 335 innovative energy projects across the state since 2015. The projects have attracted $3.5 billion in subsequent private financing, Erik Stokes, CEC Energy Deployment and Market Facilitation Office manager, said. The funding of 19 energy efficient innovative projects is estimated to save $18.6 billion in energy bills and an estimated $191 billion in improved health from lower emissions from 2025 to 2045.

Savings projections starting in four years gives “technologies advanced through EPIC-funded research and demonstration projects to become widely available in the market,” Michael Ward, Commission spokesperson, explained. Energy savings estimates are based on projected market adoption rates, he added. 

The quintet of commissioners also approved more than $70 million in grants this week, including in the areas of demand response and battery technologies.

The biggest was $16 million to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to demonstrate multiple demand response flexible technologies to support grid resiliency.

Demand response provider OhmConnect was awarded $3 million to improve and expand its engagement platform, which wrings load reductions from app users. Ohm currently aggregates flexible demand response from 150,000 households.

In addition, $2.9 million was approved for Polaris Energy Services to create flexible agricultural pumping. The project uses enhanced automated irrigation pump controls to enable demand flexibility at agricultural sites in the Central Valley.

Agricultural pumps are “a significant source of untapped flexible demand response,” according to the Commission’s Dustin Davis. Commissioner Siva Gunda estimated that demand response pumping could provide 1 GW of load flexibility.

Another $16 million in grants were awarded to lower the costs of pre-commercial promising battery and other clean energy storage projects unable to secure private financing.

  • $3.5 million was awarded to Cuberg Inc. for a non-flammable lithium-metal cell battery technology for use in electric vehicles and electric aviation.
  • $3.5 million to FreeWire Technologies for two battery storage projects with advanced communication and control technologies to provide an ultra-fast EV charging technology and microgrid support. One will be in a low-income community.
  • $3 million to Nextech Batteries, Inc. to demonstrate a utility-scale lithium sulfur battery cell to double the energy density and life of lithium-ion technology.
  • $3.2 million to another two electric vehicle projects to support community electric vehicle projects in Ventura County and Kern County.
  • $1.76 million to Technology & Investment Solutions for a pre-commercial, long duration, hydrogen energy storage system to be used at an existing anaerobic digestion facility.
  • $1.1 million to Caban Systems for a backup system integrating a clean hydrogen fuel cell into its advanced modular lithium-ion battery pack to provide over 72 hours of clean back-up during power outages.

Another $10 million in grants to projects increasing industrial combustion efficiency and solar hydrogen storage were okayed.

  • A nearly $5.6 grant was awarded to Gallo Glass for boiler efficiency.
  • $2 million to the Institute of Gas Technology to demonstrate clean flameless combustion in metal industry furnaces.
  • $1.4 million to Winston Cone Optics to develop a low-cost, high-efficiency solar thermal collector for industrial process heating.
  • $1.3 million grant to the Rocky Mountain Institute to test a prefabricated all-electric mechanical system that includes space conditioning and hot water heat pumps and advanced controls. The Department of Energy committed $5.5 million towards this project and will provide an additional $5 million if future funds are awarded.

Five entrepreneurs working to further develop alternative clean energy projects—from photovoltaic window coating to membrane electrode assemblies that convert carbon dioxide into commercial products and fuels, were awarded a total $15 million.

The final round of grants approved was a total $7.4 million for two renewable LED lighting projects being developed by the Electric Power Research Institute and the University of California, Davis.

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