Cyclone in your Basement: Torrents of Wind Power push Utilities to Find Storage Options

November 7, 2011

I’ve posted on one of the critical “problems” of booming renewable energy deployment in Germany – negative pricing – utilities forced to give away power due to torrents of renewable energy.   Now negawatts are coming to America, and one of the solutions (besides new transmission lines) will be yet another energy storage option  you read about here. 


For decades, electric companies have swung into emergency mode when demand soars on blistering hot days, appealing to households to use less power. But with the rise of wind energy, utilities in thePacific Northwest are sometimes dealing with the opposite: moments when there is too much electricity for the grid to soak up.

So in a novel pilot project, they have recruited consumers to draw in excess electricity when that happens, storing it in a basement water heater or a space heater outfitted by the utility. The effort is rooted in some brushes with danger.

In June 2010, for example, a violent storm in the Northwest caused a simultaneous surge in wind power and in traditional hydropower, creating an oversupply that threatened to overwhelm the grid and cause a blackout.

As a result, the Bonneville Power Administration, the wholesale supplier to a broad swath of the region, turned this year to a strategy common to regions with hot summers: adjusting volunteers’ home appliances by remote control to balance supply and demand.

When excess supply threatens Bonneville’s grid, an operator in a control room hundreds of miles away will now dial up a volunteer’s water heater, raising the thermostat by 60 more degrees. Ceramic bricks in a nearby electric space heater can be warmed to hundreds of degrees.

For Bonneville, the full dangers of excess supply first hit home during the June 2010 emergency, when a severe storm whipped through the region. The transmission network had so much power that the agency turned off all its fossil fuel generation, gave electricity away to neighboring networks and even told the system’s only nuclear plant to slash its production by 78 percent, a highly unusual step.

The region squeaked through, but the agency was stretching its resources “to their limits,” said Doug Johnson, a spokesman for Bonneville. At one point the system was running almost entirely on renewable energy. 

Energy storage is not new, but it’s being pushed to the fore as renewable energy begins to deliver on it’s promise.

Here in Michigan, utilities Detroit Edison and Consumer’s Energy are investing 800 million dollars into a serious upgrade of the 30 year old Ludington Pumped Storage Facility on Lake Michigan – on of several dozen around the country based on hydroelectric energy storage.


The innovative electric “battery” built in 1973 on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan south of Ludington is a key component for the public utilities as they move into alternative sources of energy, such as wind farms.

Replacement of the plant’s six massive turbines will increase the plant capacity by 16 percent — from the current 1,872 megawatts to 2,172 megawatts, after the replacements are installed by 2019. The construction project is estimated to create 100 jobs during the six years, utility officials said in a public announcement at the Ludington-Scottville Chamber of Commerce offices Monday afternoon.

When electric demand is low and the electric rates are cheaper, such as during the overnight hours, lake water is pumped 372 feet up to the reservoir. When electric demand is high and rates increase during the day, the water is released back down to Lake Michigan to produce electricity that has been “stored” in the reservoir like a giant battery.

When the plant opened, it was named one of the Top 10 civil engineering projects of the 20th Century in Michigan by the state section of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The Ludington Pumped Storage Plant is able to produce enough electrical power to supply a community of 1.4 million people, Consumers Energy officials say. The upgrade will increase the number of people served by the plant to 1.65 million, officials said.

The Ludington plant plays an increasingly important role as a storage facility for renewable energy produced during off-peak periods, thereby making renewable energy more affordable and reliable, Consumers officials said.


7 Responses to “Cyclone in your Basement: Torrents of Wind Power push Utilities to Find Storage Options”

  1. For the Ludington Pumped Storage Facility, that should be $800 million, not $800 billion.

  2. 800 million, not billion…

  3. […] Cyclone in your Basement: Torrents of Wind Power push Utilities to … ← Are You Out of the Loop About Wind Power? | Free Energy […]

  4. SJ Says:

    It’d be interesting to see a comparison of efficiency (i.e. energy loss) for different types of storage.

    I also wonder whether a distributed setup like that described here, with its increased complexity, would be more or less expensive to maintain in the long term than a centralized storage system…

    Cool stuff- thanks!

  5. […] Climate Crocks- Some interesting stuff about how energy producers are dealing with an emerging problem- what to do with all the electricity produced by wind turbines when the wind really starts ripping through. GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_bg", "000000"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_border", "333333"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_text", "b8babb"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_link", "7f8e91"); GA_googleAddAttr("theme_url", "7f8e91"); GA_googleAddAttr("LangId", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Autotag", "science"); GA_googleAddAttr("Tag", "what-news-of-the-outside-world"); GA_googleFillSlot("wpcom_sharethrough"); Share this:ShareLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in What news of the outside world?. Bookmark the permalink. […]

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