Battery storage makes wind project different

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You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but to harness the potential energy of wind, you do need the latest technology.
While wind is a clean and renewable power source, its deployment has been limited because of how its generative power comes and goes with no correlation to demand. Arlington-based AES Corp., however, believes that storing wind’s power in batteries is at least a partial answer to that reliability problem.

AES generates and distributes power in 27 countries using just about every kind of energy source there is: coal, gas, bio-fuels, hydro — everything but nuclear. It operates 1,700 megawatts of wind capacity worldwide.

Last fall, AES opened a wind farm at Laurel Mountain near Elkins, W.Va. The farm’s 61 turbines, which stretch along 13 miles of ridgeline, can generate 98 megawatts of electricity, enough to light 20,000 homes. The envelope-pushing part of the facility, though, is that the turbines are connected with the largest battery storage facility in the country. It can store 32 megawatts or about a third of the turbines’ output.

Laurel Mountain is “a significant scale-up,” says John Zahurancik, vice president of AES Energy Storage, Deployment and Operations. Its 1.3 million advanced lithium-ion batteries “are active all the time,” he explains, regulating or releasing power every four seconds in response to fluctuations in supply and demand. The batteries, housed in containers that cover about an acre next to the site’s transmission substation, use no water and produce no direct emissions. They are “pointing in the direction in which we are going,” Zahurancik says.

AES sells the electricity to PJM Interconnection, the power grid that serves 13 East Coast states, including Virginia. PJM has 52 million customers, so Laurel Mountain’s contribution to its output is minuscule, far less than one percent. Although Zahurancik maintains that “wind is generally considered to be competitive,” its incorporation into the grid is at least partly the result of state mandates to use more renewable and clean energy. 

Ahmad Pesaran is the energy storage team leader at the Center for Transportation Technologies and Systems at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo. He says that wind currently represents 1 to 2 percent of U.S. power production but expects that figure to rise. He also anticipates more battery storage facilities, with costs, which have been “an issue,” coming down as more batteries come on the market.

“Utilities are very conservative entities,” Pesaran says. “They don’t move quickly.” Nevertheless, he believes that the battery storage technology is gaining momentum. “Batteries,” he declares, “will be part of the business of the future.”

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