Batteries Provide Firm Output for Wind?

Tyler Hamilton from the Toronto Star has an interesting article and blog entry about a sale of a battery system by VRB Systems of Vancouver to an Irish based wind developer.

The theory of using batteries to firm up the power from wind is of course well known.  It is extensively used in the off grid market.  But use of batteries in the main electrical grid has not been done to any great extent, other than battery back-up for computers or telecommunications equipment, and the percentage of power supplied by battery back-ups is tiny.

Utility planners fret a great deal about the intermittency of wind.  Sometimes their logic goes something like this.  Wind can’t supply all of our power, because it doesn’t always blow.  And because wind can’t supply all of our power, therefore it should provide none.  It is this last leap in logic that is flawed.

Of course the same logic can apply to nuclear.  Nuclear cannot be shut down, because it takes days or weeks to re-start.  Therefore nuclear cannot supply all of our load, because you cannot shut it down when demand is low.  So, because nuclear can’t supply all of our power, it should supply none of it.

See, the leap of logic doesn’t work for nuclear either.

If new batteries are available that can hold a great deal of power, can cycle many times, are efficient with minimal losses, and are cost effective, why would you locate those batteries at a wind turbine?  They should be located near the load, where not only can they firm up wind, but they can also accomodate peak demands, when the transmission system is stretched.  They can be recharged at night, when demand is lower and the transmission system has spare capacity, and release power during the day, reducing the need for both generation and transmission.  By locating the battery near the load, the system benefits from both transmission savings (less investment required) and from backing up generation.  In addition, the system would become a little bit more reliable, since a transmission outage on the way from the generator to the customer may be able to be handled by the battery.

Other forms of generation need storage every bit as much as wind.  If electricity could be stored, nuclear could produce a greater percentage of our power, by storing power when load is low, and releasing it when demand is high.  Hydro electric has some storage characteristics, but it also suffers from changes in production seasonally, and year to year, as rainfall varies.  Hydro electric can use storage too.  And of course varying demand that needs the storage the most.

So I don’t get it.  Electricity storage by batteries, or other methods?  Great idea.  By why is wind generation the technology that needs it?  All generation would benefit from storage.  And why would you locate such great devices at the wind turbine?

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