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1000 MWh Renewable Energy Storage Project In Utah Announced

Utah is getting a 1000 MWh energy storage system that will use a number of technologies, including renewable hydrogen and natural gas. Is half a loaf enough in a time of climate emergency?

Utah governor Gary Herbert and US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry announced what they termed the largest clean energy storage system in the world last week. A partnership of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Magnum Development will use a combination of renewable hydrogen, compressed air storage, large-scale flow batteries, and solid oxide fuel cells to store just under 1000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy from solar power plants and wind power installations.

renewable energy storage

Credit: Magnum Development

“The Utah Advanced Clean Energy Storage Project will generate enough power to meet the needs of 150,000 households. That’s the equivalent of about 21 percent of the total households in Utah,” Herbert said. “This investment shows that Utah is not only blessed with unique energy resources, but also benefits from wise policy and an ability to forge unprecedented partnerships that help drive innovation.”

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Mitsubishi vice president Thomas Cornell said the initiative is massive. “This is an epic project for us,” he said. It will fuse unique technology that creates renewable hydrogen and compressed air in a “condominium test bed” covering 50 acres adjacent to existing salt caverns operated by Magnum.

On its website, Magnum says its compressed air energy storage system “is a bulk energy storage technology that enables the storage of off-peak power from renewable energy sources. The CAES process involves converting renewable power into compressed air that can be stored in commercial-scale solution mined caverns. This stored air becomes an energy reserve that can be released to produce electric power at any time.”

Energy storage is the key to reliable, on demand electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar. The big advantage of the new storage facility in Utah is that will be located close to existing transmission lines, eliminating the cost of constructing new ones. Governor Herbert indicated that California will likely be one of the largest customers for the electricity generated by the storage facility. (So much for those 21% of homes in Utah with renewable energy, in other words.)

Details Are Sparse

Details about the energy storage technologies that will be used in Utah are sparse. Magnum controls most of the salt domes located in Utah and uses many of them to store “liquid fuels,” i.e. oil and gas. It will now pump air under pressure into other salt chambers and then release the pressurized air to generate electricity. It’s a lot like pumped hydro except it uses air instead of water.

The rest of the details are yet to filled in. There was no information presented during the briefing about who would supply the flow batteries or what their chemistry might be. Ditto for the solid oxide fuel cells.

When it comes to renewable hydrogen, MHPS has this to say on its website. “As a next step in decarbonization, MHPS has developed gas turbine technology that enables a mixture of renewable hydrogen and natural gas to produce power with even lower carbon emissions. The MHPS technology roadmap aims to use 100 percent renewable hydrogen as a fuel source, which will allow gas turbines to produce electricity with zero carbon emissions.”

Which begs these two questions: where does the renewable hydrogen come from and when will MHPS’s “aim” to use 100% of it come to fruition? Not being a scientist or engineer, I can’t answer either question but to the best of my knowledge most if not all hydrogen in the US comes from methane or natural gas, both of which are primarily derived from fracking.

It sounds to my uneducated ear like a big part of this project is will include a heavy dependence on good old fashioned fracked natural gas. If anyone would like to prove me wrong, I would be happy to listen .

Rick Perry Speaks With Forked Tongue

Wasatch Rising Tide

Credit: Wasatch Rising Tide

The media event was disrupted for a few minutes by protesters chanting, “Your time is up! Climate action now!” Eliza Van Dyk, an organizer for climate activist with Wasatch Rising Tide, told the Salt Lake Tribune. “What Governor Herbert touts as a diverse energy portfolio is really just a dishonest attempt to continue bolstering fossil fuel economies. As young people, we feel our pleas for a sustainable future are being ignored or met with false solutions.

“Events like the Governor’s Energy Summit, which are inaccessible to most of the public, further exemplify that Herbert’s energy policy is not in the best interest of the people but rather the fossil fuel elites who continue to sacrifice our future.”

Continued use of oil, gas and coal are “not an option when imminent climate chaos is threatening our futures, especially communities living on the front lines of industry and disaster,” said Olivia Juarez, Latinx organizer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

For his part, Governor Herbert was tolerant of the protesters, saying he appreciated their youthful enthusiasm and concerns and that they should be heard and respected. “We’ve talked about today what they want us to do and provide cleaner fuels. That’s happening. They want it to happen now. But the practical reality is it takes some time to transition without crashing the economy.”

They would like to quit by Friday, to not take anything out of the ground,” he added before offering this snide comment. “My suggestion to them is start your own conference to see how many people show up to support your cause rather than come and disrupt what we’ve done here.”

Rick Perry was far less cordial. He emphasized the role of nonrenewable fossil fuels in America’s “global energy supremacy. By increasing our fuel diversity, we are increasing our grid resiliency and that strengthens our energy security and enhances our economic security.

“That’s why instead of punishing fuels that produce emissions through regulation, we’re seeking to reduce emissions by innovation. By any measure, we’re succeeding. We’re the number one producer of oil and gas in the world. And, at the same time, we also lead the world in reducing energy-related carbon emissions.”

He then went on to make the totally absurd claim that US exports of liquid natural gas and coal can clean up global carbon emissions, even though these fuels release heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Such exports, he said, can also liberate allied nations, like those in Eastern Europe, from reliance on hostile neighbors (read Russia) that can turn a pipeline on and off to advance a political agenda.

“We truly are a superpower when it comes to energy under President Trump’s leadership,” Perry said. “We’re now producing more energy, more abundantly, more affordably, and, I might say, more cleanly and efficiently. We’re attaining this with a wider range of sources than anyone ever thought possible.”

Perry then made this stunning statement. “What does it mean to a young woman in Africa who does not even have a light bulb to read? How do we help the rest of the world clean up its environment?” By dumping the poisons we dig up on our land on their land, apparently.

A fourth grader can tell you the majority of people in Africa have no access to an electrical grid and never have. So sending them gas and coal to run large central power plants will do them no good at all. But Rick Perry, former governor and Donald Trump lackey, lacks such easily obtained information, making him a perfect compliment to the other know-nothings in the Trump maladministration. What a confederacy of dunces!

The Takeaway

Renewable energy storage is a good thing. Compressed air might work. Solid oxide fuel cells? Who knows? Flow batteries? Maybe. Renewable hydrogen someday, but we will use good old natural gas in the meantime? Hmmm.

If this whole Utah Advanced Clean Energy Storage System idea strikes you as putting lipstick on a pig, who could blame you? It certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of bold action needed to dramatically lower carbon emissions in the next 11½ years, does it?

Governor Herbert may warn about “crashing the economy” if we move too far too fast on renewables, but isn’t that little like worrying about when we will have time to wash a car stranded on the railroad tracks while a speeding locomotive looms in the distance?

The automobile put a lot of wheelwrights and blacksmiths out of business. Isn’t it odd how those who wave the flag of capitalism the hardest conveniently ignore its most basic tenets? Creative destruction is always something that should happen to other people while we prop up our failing businesses with subsidies and regulatory schemes.

While Rick Perry is touting the wonders of energy dominance, he is completely oblivious to the destruction of the environment that dominance will cause. Like a horse pulling a cart, he has blinders on that prevent him from seeing what is going on all around him. With leadership like that, what could possibly go wrong?

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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