Tesla battery system fires up in Irvine Co. office tower

Dec 18 - McClatchy-Tribune Content Agency, LLC - Sarah de Crescenzo The Orange County Register


A 100-foot crane slowly maneuvered a white, 3,475-pound box around a palm tree and parking lot lamppost before gingerly setting the heavy case alongside four others behind a 15-story office tower in Irvine.

The Irvine Company, Southern California Edison and San Francisco-based Advanced Microgrid Solutions, an energy-storage systems provider, on Thursday launched a pilot project that company executives said will permanently change Southern California's energy grid.

The real estate giant recently struck an agreement with the storage system provider to install Tesla Powerpack battery systems at more than 20 of the company's Irvine office buildings, starting with the tower at 20 Pacifica.

Once complete, the "hybrid-electric" buildings will pull power from the grid when it is least expensive and, as demand peaks, draw from the energy stored in the batteries. The system will cut use of peak power by 25 percent, according to Rich Bluth, Irvine Co.'s vice president of energy management.

Tenants at the building, near the I-405, includefinancial companies KPMG, an auditing firm, and wealth manager UBS. Next up is the adjacent tower, at 40 Pacifica, Bluth said. Neither Irvine Co. nor AMS would reveal the cost of the battery system.

Eventually Irvine Co. plans to have batteries installed at its buildings portfolio-wide. The company has more than 500 office buildings in California.

AMS Chief Executive Officer Susan Kennedy credited tech darling Telsa, known primarily as a car company, for developing technology to create a "cleaner, more efficient, smarter, more sophisticated world."

Tesla's PowerPack batteries use the same technology the company uses for its electric cars.

Kennedy also gave kudos to the Irvine Co. for being a first adopter of the storage systems, which together are expected to store up to 10 megawatts of energy -- enough to power 10,000 homes.

Southern California Edison signed on to the project after the San Onofre nuclear power plant closed.

"You usually don't think of the words innovative, revolutionary and creative when you're talking about an electric utility," Kennedy said.

But its decision has spurred other utility companies to also consider out-of-the-box thinking, she said.

At times of peak energy demand, Edison will access the buildings' 10-megawatt capacity to alleviate some of the pressure on the grid, company executives said. The system works by pushing stored power into the buildings where the batteries are installed.

"They're going to use this whole fleet of batteries as a virtual power plant," Bluth said.

Contact the writer: sdecrescenzo@ocregister.com