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Taking Charge: California City Invests in Battery, Storage Production

Fremont, Calif., has long been the manufacturing hub of the Silicon Valley tech ecosystem, but it is quickly becoming a focal point in the battery and green energy storage space as the need for the technology increases.

Charging Electric Batteries
A Silicon Valley city known for its technology manufacturing is becoming a central location for energy storage and green energy development.

Fremont, Calif., with its large Tesla workforce and some 900 companies making physical products, has positioned itself as a hub for battery storage and green energy development. The timing could not be better as the nation doubles down on clean transportation and incentives to make the United States a place for battery manufacturing. President Joe Biden recently signed the Inflation Reduction Act, a broad-reaching new law aimed at addressing climate change and health care.

“It tells us, it’s go time, baby,” remarked Fremont Economic Development Manager Donovan Lazaro, reflecting on the impact the legislation can have on the battery and energy initiatives.

“I think it sends the right signals to the market, to entice investors to continue to invest in companies that require a tremendous amount of capital to develop the products,” he added. “It’s one thing to design the world’s next greatest battery, but it’s a whole other thing to be able to produce them at scale.”

And producing at scale is just what experts say will be needed in the coming years. An analysis by Southern California Edison (SCE) shows that for California to meet the 2030 and 2045 climate goals, the state needs 80 gigawatts of large-scale renewable energy, and 30 gigawatts of distributed renewables, as well as 30 gigawatts of large-scale energy storage and 10 gigawatts of distributed energy storage.

“So a tremendous amount of electrification needs to happen in the transportation sector in not that many years,” said Caroline Choi, senior vice president of corporate affairs at SCE, speaking at a recent summit organized by Veloz, an electric vehicle advocacy and policy organization.

Fremont is doing its part to advance energy technology by serving as a testbed for microgrids. Three of the city’s 11 fire stations operate on microgrids with on-site solar power, battery storage and system integrations.

“All of the companies that were part of that supply chain, from the solar, integrator, the engineering, the components, the batteries themselves, were all Fremont companies,” said Lazaro, calling attention to the city’s partnership with Gridscape, an energy solutions company that designs and builds microgrids.

“We were really grateful to be that city that took that risk and helped to establish the technology and the market,” he added.

It’s not just the Fremont Fire Department leading the way with technology developed in the city’s backyard. The police department has been moving forward with electrifying more of its fleet using Tesla Model S EVs.

The city also developed its Fremont Boulevard Safe and Smart Corridor, with emergency vehicle pre-emption technology designed to give priority to first responders and emergency vehicles by giving them a reliable green light.

“We absolutely want to continue to be a testbed for these technologies,” said Lazaro.

With the rise in electric vehicle adoption, and federal incentives structured to advance domestic battery production, cities like Fremont — which have established themselves as a nucleus for not only the development of the tech behind the batteries, but the batteries themselves — will only grow in importance.

“We’re working with a lot of these companies that are really at the forefront of American-led innovation in this space,” said Lazaro.

Top automakers in the country are also focusing heavily on where and how battery components are sourced and assembled by investing billions of dollars into electric vehicle battery and manufacturing facilities.

“The supply chain really starts around the battery. It’s the highest cost, most critical component of EVs,” said Michael Maten, director of EV policy and regulatory affairs at General Motors, in his comments on a panel discussion during the Veloz summit.

GM is investing in four battery manufacturing plants in the U.S., to be online by 2025, he added, with battery cell manufacturing to increase 19 to 20 times in the next 20 years. “That capacity should allow us to source battery cells for over a million EVs by 2025.”
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.