Op-Ed: California’s giant new batteries kept the lights on during the heat wave
In March 2015, a severe California heat wave hit parts of the state hard and the utility company PG&E was forced to cut services or even shut down some of its most important power plants.
It was the first time the state had ever been hit with a heat wave of this size, which was then the most intense on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The extreme temperatures drove up demand for electricity, which in turn prompted PG&E to ask its customers to switch to more stable energy sources, like solar energy.
PG&E’s decision to cut power across the state was a pivotal moment in the history of the so-called gigafactories, which are giant factories built for the sole purpose of storing electricity generated by the sun or wind.
The giant solar megafactories in California, as well as the solar power facilities in Oregon and Washington state, have all had to deal with severe heat waves in the last year. The same thing is now being happening in Nevada.
And the trend is spreading.
So, what are the gigafactories’ main advantages?
They make money
For starters, these gigantic, expensive data storage facilities can earn big profits and thus, the companies building them are able to develop them faster.
Take Microsoft’s data center in San Antonio. It has a total area of 30 acres — larger than half a football field — and the company built it on the cheap. The building is located in a low-density area and, according to Microsoft, has a “low-power footprint.”
That means the company needs only 20 percent of the space in order to support the huge amounts of processing and storage it needs to run its services.
The data center is also air-conditioned, meaning it consumes almost no fossil fuel.
To make the profit, the company charges the customers using its services for any storage or energy they use.
What’s more, if you use the data center to store your data, it makes no sense to pay the same price for storage space whether you use it or make it