Meanwhile, 2013 is the Year of Energy Storage

February 5, 2013

New Scientist again.

IN A remote corner of west Texas, in the shadow of a sprawling wind farm, one of the world’s largest batteries was switched on last week. Deep in oil country, the battery is at the vanguard of efforts to help renewable energy sources realise their potential and, ultimately, oust fossil fuels in the US.

Built for energy giant Duke Energy by local start-up Xtreme Power, the array is the biggest and fastest battery in the world. It can deliver 36 megawatts of wind power to the grid over a period of 15 minutes.

notreesbattThe battery’s job is to act as a buffer, smoothing out the supply of electricity from the 153 MW Notrees wind farm nearby. The intermittent nature of wind power means fossil fuel powered turbines often have to step in to match energy supply with demand. The battery at Notrees bridges the gap, says Haresh Kamath of the Electric Power Research Institute in Washington DC. “When you ramp power plants up and down they lose efficiency,” he says. “It used to be the best way to do it, but if we have storage like Notrees, we make wind plants more efficient.”

It also makes the entire grid more resilient to spikes in demand, because battery arrays can respond almost instantly, whereas natural gas power plants take about 15 minutes to boost their output.

The Notrees battery is the first in a wave of new grid-connected storage systems funded in 2009 by power companies and the US Department of Energy (DOE) that are expected to come online this year. Notrees has bus-sized, lead-acid battery modules with high surface area electrodes and multiple terminals, so electricity flows in and out quickly.

Most of the other DOE-funded projects look very different. The California-based Pacific Gas and Electricity Company will soon start filling depleted gas wells near Bakersfield with compressed air that can deliver 300 MW of power. In Modesto, a wind farm will be backed up by a 25 MW storage system based on a zinc-chloride flow battery, which is charged by filling with a reusable electrolyte liquid. The battery will replace a planned 50 MW fossil fuel plant.

“There are storage projects all over the country, and 2013 is the year for all of these to come online and start working,” says Mike Gravely of the California Energy Commission. “The goal is to give you enough energy to manage variability, or to give you enough time to find alternative resources.”

If the German experience is a guide, it will yet be a long time before any lack of storage is a limiting factor on deployment of renewable energy in the US.

Not everyone thinks these kinds of systems will be necessary at all. Stanford Engineer Mark Jacobsen has been looking at a renewable planet that could be powered without need for major energy storage. I talked to him in 2011 at the American Geophysical Union.


15 Responses to “Meanwhile, 2013 is the Year of Energy Storage”

  1. Bruce Miller Says:

    Lead acid systems, proven, recyclable, and safe. Wind Power in the old oil fields. When will the wind stop, the systems become as worthless as a dry well? Never! I like it!

    • greenman3610 Says:

      Driving across West Texas is a surreal experience – think Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Oil wells, gas flares, wind turbines, and vast semi-industrial but mostly empty spaces.
      You find yourself believing those ideas that one giant solar array could serve the whole US – there’s certainly space for it down there.

  2. Lee Pillow Says:

    Amory Lovins ( Head of the Rocky Mountain Institute, and owner of the 2nd best porn name given to a scientist, after Missy Cummings) talks extensively about how we could implement renewables and storage to create the clean economy.

    Awesome TedTalk here:


    Really enjoyed this one, Peter! Storage, batteries, and electric vehicles have grabbed my attention lately, too. Heck, with our Tiered rates in California, battery packs buy themselves, by charging from the grid at night, and feeding back during the day. If we ever get our vehicles integrated to the grid for storage, then I think we could make huge strides in storing renewable energy, in all neighborhoods, beyond what is stored by PG&E here.

    As for efficiency electric-to-gas efficiency, I just snapped a picture of my Chevy Volt’s dashboard….1000 miles, 3 gallons of gas, used on a 35-mile (each way) commute, and as our primary car when not commuting. They pack a 16KW battery pack. Our neighbors have a Leaf. Those pack a 40KW battery pack….

    The available energy adds up fast, once electric cars filter out into the population. We’ll need smart grids and feed-in tariffs soon, so we can all participate in storing and managing energy, as we transition away from fossil fuels. The more things we can do to decentralize energy now, the more ubiquitous and ‘local’ energy will (likely) be for the future.

  3. Tom Geiser Says:

    The first blogger who thinks storage is overrated! Congratulations!
    I absolutely agree, you need regular volatility in the electricity market for price arbitrage to make sense.
    Renewables don’t need storage – storage needs renewables!
    South Australia gets 25% of its electricity from wind, reaching 85% of demand at times. The state has no energy storage (no hydro), and a weak link to neighbouring Victoria.

  4. sailrick Says:

    There are also advanced lead acid batteries from Ultralife and Axion Power International, that would be even more useful for grid storage. Quicker response and better cycling characteristics.

    And then there’s the liquid metal battery developed by a group at MIT, for grid scale storage. It was featured here at Climate Crocks

    “The Weekend Wonk: Liquid Metal Batteries”
    TED talk video 15 minutes

    AMBRI is the company set up to commercialize them

    • MorinMoss Says:

      I’ve seen Don Sadoway’s talk about the liquid metal Mg-Sb battery although it seems that AMBRI has changed the chemistry since that talk.

      But what’s the advantage of that over NaS (sodium-sulfur), which appears to have very cheap raw materials and is well-tested?

  5. Love this article. Any chance of your permission to republish on Learning from Dogs?

  6. […] 2013/02/05: PSinclair: Meanwhile, 2013 is the Year of Energy Storage […]

  7. […] 2013/02/05: PSinclair: Meanwhile, 2013 is the Year of Energy Storage […]

  8. Keith Hecht Says:

    Thanks, A very useful information .

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