SDG&E has been testing current energy storage technology in conjunction with a microgrid used to power the town of Borrego Springs in California.

For the area’s 3,400 residents, the charged batteries can meet roughly one-tenth of energy needs.

That represents a significant technical advance that might some day lower peak power demands that drive electricity prices higher and stoke the need for major power lines and power plants.

SDG&E’s test could be a look at what might become the norm in California after the October vote on a mandate requiring investor-owned utilities to add 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage capacity by 2020.

The proposed mandate, coming to a final vote as soon as Oct. 3, is akin to bottling the output of a large nuclear reactor.

The goal is to create a cost-effective market for energy storage that supports multiple technologies.

Approval would accelerate investment and development in a host of storage technologies, from flow batteries with nearly unlimited longevity to compressed-air storage that pressurizes underground caverns to later spin electrical turbines.

California’s goal is to implement technologies that can be deployed anywhere in order to improve the power grid’s stability. However, it is the utility customers that will be paying for these changes and improvements.

Utility customers, including SDG&E customers in San Diego and southern Orange counties, would pick up the tab, with rough estimates running as high as $3 billion for meeting the 2020 targets.

New storage capacity would be added gradually at first, raising the stakes incrementally as policy makers and the industry learn from experience.

“The proposal is designed to be aggressive but realistic,” wrote Public Utilities Commissioner Carla Peterman, the author of the plan.

By adding storage capabilities to the power grid incrementally, the investment from consumers can be minimal, while being able to store more and more energy and stabilizing the power grid.

Read more on California’s move to power storage at UT San Diego.

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