Running Into the Wind

By Gene Wolf, Technical Writer, Transmission & Distribution World

Over the years, I have written my share of editorials and articles that were expected to generate debate. Usually, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect from an article. That was not the case, however, with the “Energy Storage” supplement published in the August 2009 issue of Transmission & Distribution World.

During the research for the “Renewable Energy” supplement (T&D World, March 2009), we noticed no one was talking about energy storage. Sure they alluded to it, but it was only in passing and not much in the way of details.

I lived in Kansas for many years. It is one of the windiest places around, but come July when the temperature is pushing 105°F in the shade, the wind is calm, not a breath, not a breeze, nothing. The customer turns up the refrigerated air, and the utility runs all the generation available to meet the load, but no wind generation.

Once the sun sets, the wind starts to blow, but it is too late at that point to help. To my way of thinking, it would be great to match the load and the resource. Sounds like a job for energy storage.

People Care About Energy Storage

Who would have thought that storage would be a controversial topic? Not only controversial, but contentious enough to cause engineers to track me down and express their displeasure. Actually, that is exactly what took place at two different conferences a year apart, thus validating that this topic of storage hit a nerve.

Rick Bush and I coauthored the supplement, and I now suspect he knew this was going to draw lightning. Come to think about it, he set me up by tempting me to get out in that open field and then had me point a golf club at the clouds overhead. Rick knows I'm wired backward. Over the years, he has witnessed me running toward issues others run from. Heck, I've made a fun career with this approach to controversy.

A case in point is an assignment to design and build a three-terminal 345-kV switching station to connect a wind farm to the grid (T&D World, November 2003). Normally, this type of project takes a couple of years to complete, but it was needed in four months. When someone told me it couldn't be done, I took the bait. Tackling the seemingly impossible gets me fired up.

Sometimes the Best Sessions Aren't Sessions

A short time after the storage supplement was published, I attended the 2009 IEEE PES General Meeting held in Calgary. I was walking through the halls of the convention center when a group of five or six engineers from one of the wind equipment manufacturers spotted me. I was in for it now. I quickly found myself surrounded by engineers (most of whom are good friends) with a bone to pick.

How could I have written what I did? How could I say the system needs batteries to keep the grid from collapsing when the wind stops blowing? How many studies had I performed to support this?

Heated words were exchanged. Needless to say, I missed the next session, but it was worth it.

I love spirited discussions. You learn so much from folks like these. They are experts in their fields, and they had valid points. But they read more into the supplement than existed. Neither Rick nor I had actually said energy storage was needed to keep the grid from falling apart.

Thinking back, this would have made a fantastic panel discussion. Fast-forward to the 2010 IEEE PES General Meeting held in Minneapolis. The Sunday evening reception was underway and another old friend involved with wind generation came up to me. He wanted to challenge me on something I had written. Yep, you guessed it, the energy storage supplement.

Irresponsible, Who Me?

I had said energy storage was needed because wind was an intermittent generator. I was then queried with this fiery dart. Should a toaster have a battery because it was an intermittent load? How could I write such a foolish thing? I was irresponsible. Didn't I realize that regulators and government officials would read what I had written, which might lead to legislation requiring energy storage on wind farms.

A couple of nights later, Rick and I met for dinner. When I sat down, Rick laughed and shook his head at me. What had I done now? Well, my irritated friend had tracked down Rick, too, and given him an earful about the supplement and about me. We had a great dinner with an animated discussion of what was written, what wasn't written and what could have been written. Just wait until the next supplement.

We wrote a supplement that has people commenting a year-and-a-half later. What a hoot! Not only that, in 2010, this supplement won a national award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. That is an honor of course, but for me, the real thrill is to address a critical need and have the opportunity to make a difference. That is why I run toward that which others walk away from.


energy storage

FYI, I recently designed a 120 KW MG flywheel backup for a germanium solar cell manufacturer to provide about a 5 to 10 second backup until the backup generator is started. It came in at about $2/watt installed. This had the lowest cost of all options inluding UPS battery backup. I know that this does not compare in magnetude to what kind of storage that you are refering to, but still shows what kind of costs will be involved. Especially when coal power can be purchased for 3 cents a watt.

Storage of Wind

You are so correct to address the issue of wind power storage. Creating power from wind is a complicated subject and varies with each site location.
Minimalist perception and design must rely upon a cyclical source of power being produced in sync with an equally cyclical demand, not always in concert with each other.
A more comprehensive design would look at these cycles and plan for a method of providing a type of storage that makes the power source as efficient and useful as possible.
I have been thinking of ideas that would evolve the current designs into methods more useful in harnessing the wind power for longer or more timely periods of delivery. These ideas would incorporate water storage systems that would recycle part or all of the water supply as in a semi-closed loop and the actual supply generation would incorporate both wind and hydro turbines depending on load cycles.
When demand periods are low and the wind is blowing, the water system is constantly topped up ready for the next demand cycle.
This is not the quick and simple answer most politicians and new wave energy designers are comfortable with.

Power Storage

I'm fairly sure you are already aware that a CRS(Congressional Reasearch Service) paper has been available since September 8, 2009 on the subject.
If not it shouldn't be too hard to find and you might find it interesting.
I found the paper to be very straight forward and objective.
The conclusion is as expected, that storing power in bulk is a daunting task.
The title is "Electrical Power Storage" by Mark Kaplan.