Advanced batteries and fires – it’s a subject in the news with Boeing’s well-publicized Dreamliner issues, so it’s one that can’t be ignored as more wind power plants integrate energy storage with batteries.

Last week, Duke Energy announced that a 36-megawatt battery system was tested and became operational at its Notrees Windpower Project in West Texas. Although this is the biggest wind power storage system ever installed, unlike large-scale solar power storage schemes using molten salts, it’s not intended to extend power production for hours; rather, Duke said, “It will demonstrate the capability of energy storage to mitigate the variability of wind energy and to contribute to the stability of the grid.”

wind power energy storage
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As noted by Duke, the system was designed and installed by Xtreme Power, an Austin-based company that makes lead acid-based, solid material batteries and management systems that go with them. The company calls the combined system Dynamic Power Resource, and is one of the leaders in hooking wind farms in with energy storage, with several already lined up.

Here’s the thing: At one of those wind farms last summer, First Wind’s Kahuku project in Hawaii, something went wrong – a fire broke out, destroying a warehouse where the battery system was housed and putting the 30-megawatt wind farm out of service (it’s not expected to restart for several more months, at the earliest).

That’s led some officials in Hawaii to question the safety of the system, but on its website Xtreme Power said not to worry. “Outside of Kahuku, we’ve never experienced a fire or adverse incident,” the company said. “We lead the market with nearly 75 megawatts installed around the world and over 241,125 hours of integrated power module operation.”

The company also said that because of that incident, it now installs fire suppression as standard equipment in all products; has retrofitted most existing installations with fire suppression; and is using containerized systems instead of large buildings.

So Xtreme Power seems to be weathering the Kahuku indident just fine – it didn’t stop Duke from moving ahead on the U.S. Department of Energy-backed project in Texas using the company’s technology. And at the same time, another wind power energy storage system in Minnesota appears to be working its way past some fire concerns: A sodium-sulfur battery system that’s been shut down since October 2011 because of fire fears is about to go back online.

The Minnesota system never malfunctioned, but ones just like it did in Japan, leading wind farm owner Xcel and other customers to stop using them, according a report in the Star-Tribune. The battery at Xcel’s Luverne, Minn., facility has since been rebuilt, and is expected to go back into service in February, the paper said.

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