Tucked away in an undistinguished industrial park in Orange, California is a technological innovation that will never be mistaken for a smartwatch or the 5K television display. However, energy storage is no less important than sleek consumer electronic devices.

Long talked about in the industry, Southern California Edison (SCE) is transforming concept into reality when it connects its first distribution level energy storage facility in June. The project, coined DESI (Distributed Energy Storage Integration), uses lithium-ion battery technology to help SCE deliver more reliable electricity.

“The battery energy storage system in Orange is SCE’s first pilot system deployed to support its distribution grid,” said Loic Gaillac, manager of the energy storage group in SCE’s Advanced Technology division. “With the state always leading the way in energy technology, you can say we’re one of the first utilities in the country implementing storage this way.”

It’s a natural progression for a company that last year unveiled one of the largest battery energy storage projects in North America. The Tehachapi Energy Storage Project is a demonstration project on the transmission level of the grid, near one of the largest wind generation hubs in the U.S. 

“The battery technology is similar, but with DESI, we’re talking about harnessing energy storage in a neighborhood near you — on the local distribution circuit,” said Gaillac.

The other difference between the projects is that DESI’s primary purpose is to help with reliability, especially during the hottest months when there is an increased demand for electricity, driven by large industrial and commercial customers or the use of residential air conditioners.

“The system in Orange is capable of supplying 2.5 megawatts of power continuously for about an hour and a half,” said Gaillac. “That’s equivalent to the power required to support between 500 and 750 homes.”

More projects are planned for the future, especially after the California Public Utilities Commission in 2013 mandated California investor-owned utilities procure 1.3 gigawatts of energy storage — 580 megawatts for SCE — by 2020, which must be installed by 2024. This decision allows SCE to own up to 50 percent of the required amount.

The distributed energy storage systems have other practical benefits.

“If we’re at a point on a given circuit where pockets of it are at or near capacity, and may impact reliability, a project like DESI can help us address reliability issues locally without an immediate upgrade of the circuit,” said Gaillac.

And the battery energy storage systems will be placed strategically in locations on the circuit where it is needed most, packaged in unassuming, custom-made enclosures with a footprint about half the size of a tennis court.

It may not be sleek, but it’ll do the job.