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Energy Storage

Published on March 27th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer


25 TWh of Wind Power Idled in 2010 in US – Grid Storage Needed

March 27th, 2011 by  

A commenter on my last story about wind derided wind power because of seeing turbines “not turning”. Like most people, she didn’t know that wind farms are frequently shut down by grid operators, because there is no room on the grid. But it raised a question in my mind. How much is shut down?

Although I knew that a lot of potential wind power has to be idled for lack of transmission – and also, as Jonathan Marshall at PG&E told me: for lack of customers in the dead of  night – I didn’t know just how often wind farms are asked to shut down operations to reduce congestion, and to help her understand the reason, I went looking for the exact figures.

I found the rather astonishing answer in a story I’d missed in February at Greentechmedia.

“Approximately 25 TWh (yes, 25 terawatt-hours) of wind energy was curtailed (idled) in the U.S. last year to keep the off-peak grid energy price from frequently going negative.  That is about equal to the energy in 700 million gallons of gasoline just being thrown away. Curtailed wind energy in the U.S. appears likely to exceed 40 TWh in 2011″.

The reason there is such a disconnect between wind and transmission is that a wind farm can can be built in a year or so, but transmission can take at least 5 or 6 years, because the permitting is even more bogged down by multiple bureaucracies and by NIMBY resistance than wind farms themselves. Transmission is owned by so many entities in the US that it is hard to streamline it.

The wasted power is frustrating enough for a nation that really could use “the equivalent of 700 million gallons of gasoline a year” in clean energy. But also, from the point of view of wind financing, it is a negative factor.

Although it is technically easier to idle a wind farm than a coal plant, the frequent idling cuts into profits more, making it costlier than it needs to be to build more clean wind energy. When coal plants have to shut down, at least they save fuel costs. But wind farms need to ship all their potential wind to make money, because (since wind is free) “fuel” is not factored in as a cost of business.

Wind farms are going up in vast tracts of empty land where wind is strongest, and until now, that has been mostly deserted land that our ancestors did not settle (because it was too windy!) and so villages did not grow into cities there. But transmission was developed where population was concentrated, not where wind is.

This story at Greentechmedia was about one of the many solutions to the storage problem – installing manufacturing operations at wind farms, in this case to make a “windfuel”.

Storage innovation for this wasted energy is the exciting story of our time. There’s a wealth of innovation aimed at putting all this clean power to use.

Related articles from Cleantechnica

Why Wind Storage will be Worth Trillions

Liquid Air Tested to Store Renewable Energy in UK
General Compression’s Storage Can Ramp-up in Seconds
California Proposes First Renewable Energy Storage Requirements
Make Ice at Night to Store Wind Energy
For Baseload Wind Cheaper than Fossil Fuels
Storing Renewable Energy in Boxes of Air
Top ARPA-E Funding Goes to Renewable Storage in “Liquid Battery”
Metal-Air Battery With 11 Times the Energy at Half the Cost?
Pump Hydro Underground to Store Wind Power

These are just some of the ideas being worked on to solve this. If you have an idea for using all that excess wind power, suggest it here. We expect to have 40 TWh of the stuff going begging this year.

Map from NREL Pink and purple are best for wind (the Dakotas, Montana, Minnesota, Wyoming, Texas)
Susan kraemer@Twitter

About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today and Renewable Energy World

She has also been published at Wind Energy Update, Solar Plaza, Earthtechling PV-Insider , and GreenProphet, Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American.

As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator’s perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times. 
Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.

  • anderlan

    I’d like to know how much of the anointed base-load coal/gas/nuke power is wasted at night, as demand goes to something like 10% while a fossil plant might still consume 50% of its peak output fuel rate even when ‘idling’ with no load. You can’t just shutdown a base-load plant. I want to know how many TeraWattHours, how much fuel and money, and how many gigatons of CO2 we are just pissing away at night.

    I want to know this because it might be huge. The story I’m guessing at is that we could completely remove a large percentage of our transport emissions by using EVs and charging them at night. I’ll say it again, we might could just *REMOVE* a big chunk of transport emissions altogether, for free, just by being smart, and utilize the ‘wasted’ emissions of nighttime base-load.

  • J D Gragg

    If they are having to idle down the wind generating fields at night, and are therefore hurting the monetary returns, does this not mean that particular field was over-built to begin with? J.D.Gragg / OMNI I.P.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Not necessarily. Demand is generally lower in the spring and fall than in winter and summer. Water/hydro can be abundant in the spring. A lot of wind was curtailed in the Pacific Northwest last spring when dams were generating more power than the grid could absorb.

      Additionally demand is higher during daytime/early evening hours. It might make financial sense to build wind capacity to furnish those hours knowing that there would be little late night market. Peak hour prices can be high enough to offset the loss of any nighttime sales.

      Then there is the problem of stranded wind. Sometimes it makes more sense to dump some wind during those few times per year when the wind is particularly strong rather than spend money to install larger capacity transmission lines which would be underused most of the time.

      Finally there’s temporarily stranded wind. The wind farm gets finished before the transmission lines are installed/upgraded. China had a big problem along those lines a couple of years back, they got turbines up much faster than other companies could run the wire.

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  • Calamity Jean

    Anhydrous ammonia (NH3) can be made from water, air, and electricity. It can be stored more easily than hydrogen and can be burned in a turbine or modified Diesel engine. Tank trucks, railroad tank cars, or existing pipelines can move it from place to place. Google “fuel ammonia”.

    The best solution for unusable wind electricity is to improve electrical transmission to move it to where it can be used, but fuel ammonia is a good choice for energy storage on a timescale of hours to months.

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  • Anumakonda Jagadeesh

    Grid Evacuation is a must for expansion of Wind Energy.While planning,this must be taken care of.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  • Mitch


    “If you have an idea for using all that excess wind power, suggest it here. ”

    Electric car batteries and Plug-in-hybrid batteries charged at night and during the day when there is excess power.


  • Nathang

    There is a new lead acid battery technology that was just created that stores 70% more energy and works much better in extreme climates. Here is the link.http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/03/pnnl-team-finds-that-new-electrolyte-mix-increases-energy-storage-capacity-of-vanadium-redox-batteri.html GE’s sodium sulfur batteries also will definitely be useful for this.

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  • shocking. thanks for digging up the info!

  • Boneheaded1

    Transmission lines are the most important but the further you go the more energy loss in the lines. There are ways to minimize the power loss. The best idea is to use the wind where there are transmission problems as a way to generate hydrogen. This can shipped via pipeline or rail (the rail can be powered by the wind electricity) to more central generation sites (fuel cells or burned in turbines).

    Another storage method is the resevoir method. Two resevoirs; an upper and lower. When power is needed drain the upper to the lower through hydo electric turbines. When there is excess power, use the excess to pump from the lower to the upper (“recharging” the upper). There is energy loss due to effeciency issues but better to save 50% than lose 100%.

    Either way, we need to do something about this massive power loss. This is the stuff the stimulus spending should be doing; working to increase our energy independence.

  • miro novak

    Count with me:
    With investment about 15 000 000 USD I am able to build an energy storage with capacity of 1,26 GWh of electric energy (about 12 USD per 1kWh). Typical peak and peak-off period is 24 hours. So in 1 year I am able to store about 460 (=1,26*365) GWh of energy. To store that excess wind power of 25 TWh there is about 55 energy storages needed. Total cost of investment is about 0,825 Billion USD.

    If you buy peak-off energy for 50 USD per MWh and sell it for 150 USD, with 25 TWh you get 2,5 Billion USD per year. More than initial cost of investment.

    It seems to be good business.

    You, Americans, are too proud to address me, niemand from Slovak Republic (Europe). Chine businessmen are clavier.

    macmiro at me.com
    peace … miro novak

  • Alan S

    The biggest problem with wind is that it is very available when we do not need it, ie at night, and not available when needed the most, ie middle of the day in the summer when wind is normally not blowing.

    Also the transmission lines fall into the “not in my back yard” situation and are halted quite often by those that are yelling for alternative sources.

  • David M

    There will always be a few short sighted people who deride developing technologies because it doesn’t happen fast enough for their liking. Their predecessors undoubtedly complained to the Wright brothers about their lack of Business Class seating.

    • Ha ha…. Or that the cavier would never be as fine as that served on the Titanic!

  • Casey

    If the design of Andrea Rossi is real and what he say is true, then the good energy storage will be production of hydrogen, also as a fuel for cars. Of course we need better technology for production of hydrogen.

    I don’t know if the technology that BlackLightPower Company is talking about is real, because they did not presented any working machine, but if their theory is true, then there can be more use for hydrogen. It mean more energy than in burning it.

  • Wilmot McCutchen

    Great work, Susan. This is a most useful statistic. Your spotlight on the difficulty of connecting wind to the grid might be unwelcome news to those advocates who imagine that a large enough wind network will overcome local problems, such as the lack of energy storage. Maybe wind should look for another job, such as providing the energy to crack CO2 from fossil fuel power plants to make CO for synthesis of liquid fuels. Or even elemental carbon. Turning trash to treasure with these terawatts. See e.g. http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20100146927.pdf and http://www.freepatentsonline.com/20090200176.pdf

  • Bob Wallace

    Grid storage might be needed.

    What I haven’t seen is when and where this wind power is being thrown away.

    If it’s only during a short part of the year, March winds for example or if it’s a little here, a little there then it doesn’t make financial sense to build storage.

    Some utilities are installing natural gas turbines and closing coal burning plants. NG brings its own set of problems to the table, but at least it can be turned on and off quickly. NG is dispatchable. It might make more financial sense to install gas turbines and then use them only when renewables aren’t working. We won’t turn off wind turbines and leave NG turbines running. Wind has a zero fuel cost0.

    We are going to need storage in the future. It’s not clear that we really need it at this point in time. I’d like to see us building more, but finances are going to drive the decision.

    • Yes, me neither. I had heard about Texas, some, and BPA during their stormy Northwest spring both this year and last, and Ontario having to ship free wind to the US.

      • Bob Wallace

        There’s been a problem of stranded wind in Texas for a while. That’s why T. Boone had to delay/give up on his Texas wind farm and move the turbines to other states.

        Currently new transmission lines are being built to take Texas power north. Longer term we’re likely to see the Texas grid tied to the Eastern and Western US grids via the proposed Tres Amigas project and/or a series of HVDC lines running across the country.


        I’ve got no way to tell if the need is greater for storage or transmission lines. Perhaps it’s some of both.

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