Capturing Extra Wind Power For When It’s Needed

Giant wind turbine blades spin on a gusty ridgeline in eastern Washington. Right now the blades are generating energy to help cool down homes and businesses on this hot day.

However, sometimes wind blows the turbines at night or in the spring, when the Northwest doesn’t need extra energy on the grid. In the past, Bonneville Power Administration has told wind producers to shut down wind farms when there’s a surplus of energy on the grid. And sometimes there is no wind when energy is needed.

Researchers say there’s a solution to renewable energy variability: storage. Chunlian Jin, an engineer at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, said storage is important to the future of renewable energy.

“Such important research will enable the United States to use its energy resources more efficiently,” Jin said.

Without the ability to store renewable power, energy generated is essentially wasted. So, a Tualatin, Ore., company is testing a new battery that can store excess energy generated from wind farms.

A 20-foot shipping container parked at the wind farm holds a battery system that will store energy produced at wind farms. Researchers say energy storage is a solution to renewable energy variability. (image via EarthFix)

A 20-foot shipping container parked at the wind farm holds a battery system that will store energy produced at wind farms. Researchers say energy storage is a solution to renewable energy variability. (image via EarthFix)

Powin Energy is testing its battery in several phases. Bonneville Power Administration officials said the battery performed well during initial tests.

Right now, it’s at Nine Canyon Wind Project outside Kennewick, Wash. A 20-foot shipping container parked at the wind farm holds the battery system.

Energy Northwest is involved in the first testing phase. One goal of this demonstration project is to weigh the costs and benefits of storing energy this way, said John Steigers, project developer for Energy Northwest.

“This unit, if it started out fully charged, could support an average American home for a bit over two days, all by itself,” Steigers said.

That’s not a lot of power when considering the how much energy a wind farm can generate. About 800 batteries would be needed to back up the entire Nine Canyon Wind Project, Steigers said.

“We don’t need that many for it to make a difference,” Steigers said. “What we’re trying to do is address short-term changes in the production.”

In other words, the project aims to balance the power on an hourly basis.

To that end, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Wash., has developed a way to help the battery immediately respond to the power grid’s needs.

Researchers at the lab have also designed a computer model that will simulate groups of these batteries working together. The model will help determine how the system will work on a larger scale.

“We can combine the data to simulate the total impact of a larger storage system,” said PNNL’s Jin.

Powin Energy envisions the project working at a local level, said Virgil Beaston, chief technology officer at the company. He said the batteries could be put to use throughout the Northwest at grocery stores, hospitals or other large commercial facilities.

Imagine the batteries are installed at a grocery store. Right now, if the grocery store uses too much energy during peak demand, Bonneville Power Administration will charge them extra money. (Peak demand is when the largest amount of energy is used during the day, like when everyone comes home from work at the same time, turning on lights, televisions, and stoves.)

With this battery, Beaston said, retailers could store excess wind power. When stores need extra energy during peak demand, they could use the stored power in the battery. That’s instead of using power from the grid and incurring a fee from BPA.

The battery will also be tested at a municipal utility and a large commercial site. Powin Energy has already installed several similar batteries in China.

Powin Energy would not provide a price range for the battery. Energy Northwest’s John Steigers says one goal of this demonstration project is to weigh the costs and benefits of storing energy with this sort of battery.

earthfixEditor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of EarthFix. Author credit goes to Courtney Flatt/Northwest Public Radio.

EarthFix is an innovative public media partnership of Pacific Northwest stations, creating media across multiple platforms, helping citizens examine environmental issues unfolding in their own backyards and to explore how local actions intersect with national issues.

    • Jonathan_Justice

      While i can see serious value in this battery experiment, the location rather begs a different storage mode question: What happens when system operators go for a dynamic balance of solar, wind, and hydro? Washington and Oregon are not in the Colorado River situation where water for agricultural, domestic, and commercial uses is seriously short many years so that electrical generation is a minor by-product of a water delivery system. How much water for power generation could be held in reserve if the regional power system prioritized using wind and solar first, used a little conventional storage to smooth system operation, and turned to hydro for peak demand situations?