Storing wind energy: new developments

A story published at Grist highlights some of the latest developments in storage technologies for wind power.

Laurel Mountain wind farm with battery storage
Laurel Mountain wind farm with battery storage (pic: Forbes)

The Laurel Mountain wind farm in West Virginia, USA, is home to the world’s largest lithium-ion battery, rated at 32 megawatts (the wind farm is rated at 98 megawatts). Another, slightly larger (dry-cell) battery storage system is planned for Duke Energy’s Notrees wind farm in Texas.

According to Forbes,

AES engineered the Laurel Mountain project for power regulation partly because there has always been demand for this type of service. Utilities typically are required to reserve power each day to deal with any fluctuation in the grid, and that allows AES to figure out the extent of demand and the prices it could charge, Zahurancik said. The 32-megawatt project delivers electricity in 15-minute increments.

Beyond Zero Emissions have demonstrated the feasibility for Australia to supply all its power with current wind technology, backed up by solar thermal plants, in which the energy is stored as heat before it generates electricity.

New developments in energy storage technologies could make that scenario even easier, and enhance prospects for heading toward 100% renewable energy in countries that do not have the same solar resource that Australia has.

David Roberts writes in the Grist article:

Discussions on storage often end with, “for now it’s too expensive.” In most cases, that’s true, but it’s misleading to treat the affordability question as though it’s a binary switch, as though someday storage will flip from being too expensive to affordable. Right now, some forms of storage are cost-effective in some applications given some markets and regulations and some accounting methods. (See above!)

What will happen is, that small pool of affordable storage applications will grow larger, not only because the technology will advance but because accounting methods will change (full lifecycle cost accounting over extended time periods makes storage look a lot better), regulations will change, markets will change, and the engineering culture inside power utilities will change.

All this will happen, I predict, much faster than even the most optimistic projections now have it. Even as a kind of resigned fatalism-bordering-on-nihilism has gripped the political conversation, out in the world, clever people are doing ambitious, exciting things. Don’t let politics fool you: This is an amazing time to be involved in clean energy.

One possible reservation about the use of battery storage – considering full lifecycle cost – is the impact of manufacturing the batteries. The world’s largest lithium reserves are beneath the Salar de Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia. Developing this resource could bring great benefits to South America’s poorest country. It could also destroy one of the most beautiful spots on the earth.

Andean flamingos on the Salar de Uyuni
Andean flamingos on the Salar de Uyuni

Of course, fossil fuel extraction is already having a similar impact all over the earth. It’s good news to have new options available for consideration in working our way out of the fossil fuel economy.

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