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Charging Up Energy Storage

Updated: Jan 29

So Cal Edison's Jorge Araiza guides the development, deployment of large-scale energy storage systems to reduce electricity costs, stabilize the grid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the early 1990s, nine-year-old Jorge Araiza took a trip with his family from their home in Norwalk, Calif. near Los Angeles to Seattle to visit one of his aunts. The highlight of that adventure, Araiza recalls today, was a sightseeing day trip he took with his aunt to see one of her favorite spots in the greater Seattle area, a hydroelectric dam owned and operated by the City of Seattle.

Hydroelectric power is a well-established form of energy storage and currently one of the largest sources of renewable electricity worldwide - Photo courtesy of Chih-Ming-Huang via Pexels

“It really struck me, like ‘wow, this is how electricity is made,’” he remembers. “It was a very memorable day.”

At the time, young Araiza didn’t even know what engineering was, but he attributes that face-to-face introduction to hydroelectric power with sparking a career in electrical engineering that would land him at the nexus of climate change and the national power grid: stationary energy storage.

Jorge Araiza is a senior advisor for Southern California Edison (SCE) - Photo courtesy of SCE
Pursuing Carbon Neutrality

Today, as a senior advisor for Southern California Edison (SCE), Araiza guides the utility’s efforts to develop and deploy energy storage at scale to help California clean and stabilize its electric grid, respond to emergency power needs and reach carbon neutrality by 2045.

SCE is using energy storage—much of it based currently on lithium-ion battery technology—to:

  • Integrate renewable energy into the grid by storing excess energy produced during periods of high generation and releasing it when energy demand is high;

  • Improve grid reliability by providing back-up power during outages and smoothing out fluctuations in demand;

  • Save money by reducing the need to build expensive power plants or new transmission lines to address peak demand; and

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enabling the use of more renewable energy resources and reducing the need for so-called “peaker” plants, i.e., fossil fuel-based power plants that run only during periods of “peak” demand for electricity.

SCE’s energy storage assets are based largely on power purchase agreements with independent power producers. Araiza’s work, however, focuses primarily on helping the utility identify how best to develop and deploy energy storage technologies at sites owned and operated by SCE, now and in the future.

“Without energy storage deployed at scale, it’s going to be very challenging to meet the State of California’s greenhouse gas reduction goals,” observes Araiza. “Energy storage is also going to be central to ensuring a smooth transition from a grid based on traditional fossil-fueled generation to one powered primarily by clean renewable resources.”

Araiza began his engineering career at Cerritos College in Southern California. Photo courtesy of Northwalker, Creative Commons Zero
Discovering Engineering

Araiza, the son of first-generation Mexican immigrants, attended John Glenn High School in Norwalk, where he discovered a passion for the sciences and chemistry. But he wasn’t sure what to do with those interests until he started taking classes his junior year—in lieu of advanced placement classes at Glenn— at Cerritos College, a nearby community college. There, one of his professors introduced him to electrical engineering as a possible career path.

“Until that point,” says Araiza, “I never understood what engineers do. My professor suggested that electrical engineering could be whatever I wanted it to be. I could focus on design, or just on problem-solving (optimizing a system for say, reliability or price) or even working with large power and transmission systems.”

Landing Where He Belongs

After two years at Cerritos College, Araiza matriculated at the University of California, Irvine, where he completed his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in Dec 2004.

Photo courtesy of paulbr75 via Pixabay

During one of his final exams, one of Araiza’s UCI professors, an SCE employee, recommended that he apply for a job at the utility. Araiza went home that night and applied for the position at an SCE electric vehicle test center, which he subsequently got. He began his career with the utility in early 2005.

Catching the Groundswell

In one sense, Araiza suggests, he got in “on the ground level” with SCE, a company that traces its roots back to 1886.

“When I went to college, the utility sector wasn’t that popular,” he recalls. “Everyone wanted to be in aerospace and defense working on directed energy, jet fighters and all that cool stuff. But when I began working in the sector, utilities were starting to discover and integrate new technologies such as advanced metering, solar and wind were becoming bigger components of the grid, energy storage was emerging and of course, the electric vehicle industry was starting to take off.”

Since starting that first position with SCE in early 2005, Araiza has watched the utility industry transform itself from a largely analog industry characterized by large, clunky hardware to a much “hipper” enterprise driven by digital technology and advanced communications systems.

“The thing that makes me excited to go to work is seeing new technology being integrated into an industry that’s more than 100 years old,” says Araiza. “It’s been really fun to see (SCE) react and respond positively to this nascent technology, almost like a start-up, as we complete some very challenging projects to help California.”

What is an Energy Storage System?

A typical energy storage system comprises:

  • a storage medium such as batteries—lithium-ion is currently the most common type of energy storage medium;

  • an inverter, which either converts direct current (DC) power from the battery into alternating current (AC) power used by the grid or converts AC power to DC power to store excess electricity from the grid in the batteries; and a

  • supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system that manipulates the inverter to manage electricity flow back and forth between the energy storage medium and the grid.

In 2016, SCE and its supplier Tesla deployed 20 MW of stationary storage in just 92 days in support of the urgent Aliso Canyon Energy Storage project. Photo courtesy of Edison International

Grid-scale energy storage systems are typically located near a point of generation, such as a photovoltaic (solar) farm, or at existing power plants or substations. Typically, they are used to either store excess energy to help modify the cost of energy provided during peak demand periods, or to provide auxiliary power services such as helping to start up existing power plants to limit carbon emissions.

Maturing Energy Storage

Over the years, Araiza has helped drive several SCE initiatives designed to mature energy storage and deploy it more widely in Southern California. In the early years of his career, for example, he helped test and evaluate energy storage technologies as part of the Tehachapi Energy Storage Project, a seven-year project that demonstrated the ability of lithium-ion batteries to store energy at scale from hundreds of wind turbines under real-world conditions.

Aerial view of Tehachapi Energy Storage Project
Tehachapi Energy Storage Project

He was also a key engineer in the Aliso Canyon Energy Storage Project (ACESP), a project authorized in May 2016 by the California Public Utilities Commission to fast track the development of up to 100 MW of energy storage to replace electricity generation lost due to a natural gas leak at the Aliso Canyon Natural Gas Storage Facility in Southern California.

For ACESP, Araiza helped write technical requirements, guided SCE’s team through the procurement and award process, oversaw the building of the new site, and helped ensure its smooth integration with the grid.

“That project was a sprint from the beginning,” he recalls. “Through Tesla, our supplier, we deployed 20 MW of stationary storage at our Mira Loma Substation in Ontario, Calif. in just 92 days, a process that might have taken more than a year in the past.”

Greensmith Energy (now part of Wärtsilä Energy Solutions) and AES Energy Storage also contributed to meeting the CPUC goal, completing two separate energy storage projects totaling 50 MW of storage in early 2017.

Integrating Third-Party Assets

Today, notes Araiza, one of his biggest challenges is helping SCE integrate energy storage with the grid as quickly as possible. And while energy storage technologies from third-party developers are evolving rapidly, codes and standards surrounding those new technologies often lag behind. That disconnect can complicate or even spell trouble for Araiza’s efforts to help SCE deploy storage.

“We work hard to acquaint third-party power producers with California codes, standards and environmental regulations, which are some of the strictest in the nation,” he says. “If we end up procuring power from these companies, we need to make sure it’s safe, reliable, and will integrate smoothly with the grid.”

To help increase industry confidence in using energy storage, he adds, SCE also collects lessons learned from each new technology and each of its energy storage pilot programs and shares that information with the broader utility industry.

Planning from Home

Work days begin early in the suburban, single-family home in Yorba Linda, Calif. that Araiza shares with his wife—also an SCE employee—and two daughters. After scanning the news and his social media feeds, Araiza helps get his daughters ready for school. After a quick breakfast of coffee and a granola bar, he drops them off at school, then returns to his home office to settle in for a busy day of video conferences with customers and SCE colleagues.

Araiza and his wife—among friends, they are known as a “power couple”—are fortunate to still be working from home three days per week. On those “in the office days,” he makes the one-hour-plus commute to his office in Westminster in his Model 3 Tesla, an EV he calls “fun and peppy.”

Jorge looks forward to the days he gets to work in the field with SCE colleagues -- SCE photo

“My job is very dynamic,” Araiza explains. “Some days we’re looking at our internal projects which are in various stages of development. Some days we’re just thinking about what we’re going to do for future projects, and other days we’re helping our colleagues figure out how best to integrate new technologies into their projects.”

And if he’s lucky, he might even get to drive out to check on the progress of several SCE pilot programs currently underway near his home in Orange County.

Producing a Cleaner, Greener Future

In the end, Araiza observes, his work is all about integrating new technologies on the grid and helping the State of California achieve its vision of a clean, carbon-neutral future. Incorporating the right technologies, he believes, will enable broader adoption of electric transportation and renewable energy while decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

Energy storage systems are being used increasingly to improve the efficiency and reliability of solar power generation. They store excess energy during periods of high sunlight/low demand and then release it during periods of low sunlight/high energy demand.

“Most consumers will never see or understand the work we’re doing with energy storage to help produce a clean, stable and reliable grid,” he notes. “As an engineer, however, I’m really proud of the things I work on because I know they’re producing clear societal benefits every day.”

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