Vistra targets gigawatt-scale battery

Enrique Macias via Unsplash

BY PRISCILLA OBILANA:

The extreme weather in Texas caught the US state off-guard.
In doing so, it has served as a powerful reminder of why storage is so vital for grid stability and energy users.

Simply put, storage helps keep the lights on.

This is a need that is recognised by Texas-based electricity group Vistra, which plans to develop the world’s first gigawatt battery facility in California.

The company wants to grow battery capacity for its Moss Landing natural gas power station to 1.5GW / 6GWh. This is five times the battery capacity already operational at the plant: Vistra started 2021 by turning on a 300MW / 1.2GWh battery at Moss Landing, which is currently the world’s largest battery facility.

It is now adding a 100MW / 400MWh extension to that project, to expand the facility to 400MW / 1.6GWh. That phase is due to be operational in August.

And Vistra ended January by seeking permission for a second battery project near Moss Landing, at Morro Bay, which would measure 600MW / 2.4GWh and could be online by 2024. It said the sites could accommodate 1.5GW / 6GWh of storage in total, and make an important contribution to the smooth running of the Californian grid.

It is looking to get the second phase online in 2024 to coincide with the closure of a reactor at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant.

All of this makes Vistra a name worth watching.

Vistra’s vision

Vistra has a portfolio that includes natural gas, nuclear and solar, as well as battery storage. It operates in 20 US states, the District of Columbia, and outside the US in Canada and Japan.

In the US, it has emerged as an important player in California, which is currently home to some of the US’s most ambitious state-led storage plans.

Within Vistra’s portfolio sits what the company calls ‘Vistra Zero’. This is its 4GW portfolio of net-zero assets and, essentially, means all the above except natural gas. The company’s big Vistra Zero assets include a 2.3GW nuclear power plant. It is also evaluating more than 2.5GW of solar and storage developments in California, Illinois and Texas.

You can read more about the Vistra Zero portfolio here.

By 2030, the company is looking to deploy 9GW of renewable energy in the US, as well as developing large-scale battery storage facilities.

Vistra is not currently a well-known name in renewables, but its move into storage is changing that. This is intentional. Vistra is currently dedicating around one quarter of its free cash flow to investing in renewables and batteries, because it sees that solar and storage are both becoming more important in the running of electricity grids.

It is also no coincidence that it is pairing its huge batteries with gas-powered plants. Vistra says these are a more effective way than coal to support the energy transition as they are more efficient, flexible and cheaper, with lower carbon emissions.

In the release about the launch of the 300MW / 1.2GWh first phase of Moss Landing, Vistra CEO Curt Morgan said that other benefits included using active transmission lines and providing cheaper electricity for consumers.

“A battery system of this size and scale has never been built before,” said Morgan. “As our country transitions to a clean energy future, batteries will play a pivotal role and the Vistra Moss Landing project will serve as the model for utility-scale battery storage for years to come.”

In California, this would aid the state’s environmental aims – namely that of having 100% emissions-free electricity for retail customers by 2045 – and create jobs. It will push other developers to build bigger batteries too.

Vistra is certainly upping the ante for the industry. Record-breaking projects will do that. And with grid reliability in Texas such a big issue this week, there is arguably no better time for storage to show its strengths.

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