Where else to site the nation’s biggest wind energy storage facility but in Texas, the state known for its extra bigness? Duke Energy has fired up the new 36 megawatt energy storage and management facility, which is linked to the Notrees Windpower wind farm in the western part of the state. Aside from showcasing some nifty new energy management bells and whistles, the new storage facility blows a Texas-sized raspberry in the direction of renewable energy nay-sayers, whose complaints about the “unreliable” nature of wind power are now, well, blowing in the wind.
We Built This Gigantic Wind Energy Storage System!
The new facility was commissioned by North Carolina-based Duke, through its Duke Energy Renewables division. It was the recipient of one of the early publicly funded energy projects approved under the Obama Administration’s Recovery Act in 2009, with Duke matching a $22 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
For its investment, the U.S. taxpaying public gets to use the new system as a knowledge base leading to widespread adoption throughout the national grid, firmly cementing clean, renewable, low cost wind power into the mainstream of the U.S. energy landscape.
Other partners in the effort include the Electric Power Research Institute, which will analyze the system’s performance and assess its potential for broader application, and the Energy Reliability Council of Texas, which is working with Duke Energy to optimize the system’s ability to increase or decrease the frequency of electricity traveling through the grid.
Small Batteries for Big Energy Storage
The storage system itself was engineered by the Texas-based company Xtreme Power, which counts the Bloomberg 2012 New Energy Pioneer Award and an R&D 100 Award among its recognitions.
Xtreme’s Dynamic Power Resource™ energy storage system is already in use elsewhere in the U.S., one example being a 15 megawatt system for the Kahuku Wind project in Hawaii which previously held the title of North America’s largest when it went online in 2011.
The system consists of a scalable assembly of thousands of Xtreme Power’s PowerCell™ battery, which is a a 12 volt, 1 kWh, dry cell battery based on a proprietary formula of alloys including copper, lead and tellurium.
The system stores energy like a conventional battery but it also has the quick “stop-and-go” capabilities of a capacitor, and that enables it to function as a high performance energy management system as well as a storage system.
Among other advantages, Xtreme Power notes that the materials in the PowerCell are not classified as hazardous and are easily recycled, for which purpose the company has established a recovery system.
Many Paths to Renewable Energy Storage
Battery-based storage systems are just one avenue of exploration for renewable energy storage. Among the other up-and-coming options is the flywheel, updated from its Neolithic roots with high-tech materials and space-age lubricants.
Pumped hydro energy storage is another promising resource, in which excess wind power is used to pump water uphill, then gravity takes over when more energy is needed.
Along similar lines, researchers at the University of Nottingham are looking into inflating giant undersea bags with compressed air, by using excess power from offshore wind farms. When more energy is needed, water pressure from the sea will force air out of the bags to run turbines.
Meanwhile, researchers at the North Carolina State University are working on semiconductor “nanoflowers” with an enormous surface area relative to their size, which could lead to the development of cheaper, more efficient lithium-ion batteries.
Speaking of the Biggest…
Duke’s recent merger with Progress Energy has made it the largest utility company in the U.S., so this looks to be just the beginning of its impact on future energy generation, storage and distribution nationwide.
The company has been making headlines lately for a variety of reasons, not all of them necessarily positive, but we’ve also taken notice of the company’s leadership position on renewable energy.
Aside from wind power, Duke has been in the vanguard of new distributed solar power systems, and last fall former CEO Jim Rogers went out on a limb to make a clean energy case for the re-election of President Obama.
Update: This article has been edited to reflect the correct office at DOE funding the project, which is the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
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Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.