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Powerful Living Batteries ARE included By Magen Howard


Electric cooperatives test energy storage systems to better harness renewable energy n


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ne of the main obstacles to widespread use of wind and solar power production is nature itself: The wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine. But electric cooperatives are on the cusp of efforts to develop technology aimed at storing excess renewable energy for when it’s needed most. Battery storage systems, fi rst developed in the 1970s, have become more viable on a large scale thanks to recent chemistry breakthroughs that increase the longevity while lowering the cost of batteries. If battery energy storage at the utility level can be made commercially viable, it could result in a revolution for the aging American electric grid.


Wind and solar energy are called “intermittent” sources of power—meaning they don’t provide a steady supply of electricity like traditional generation fuels, such as coal or natural gas. Even in the best situations, wind blows on average only about 30 percent to 40 percent of the time and usually not during hot, humid weekday afternoons or extremely cold mornings when electricity use spikes. Meanwhile, solar energy production can dramatically drop even when a band of fl uffy clouds briefl y passes over the sun. That’s where battery energy storage comes in. For example, the electricity produced when the wind blows at night and the sun shines can be used during times of peak demand—the electric utility industry’s version of rush-hour traf- fi c, when power use skyrockets—to avoid purchasing expensive supplemental power.


So far, a handful of electric co-ops across the country are testing various uses of batteries.


Harnessing energy saves money


Battery storage systems are a big investment for any electric cooperative. The good news is, benefi ts exist beyond leveling out renewable energy supply. “Properly managed battery storage systems can delay the need for building expensive transmission lines that are diffi cult to get permits for in the fi rst place,” says Dale Bradshaw, a senior program manager with the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research and development arm of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “It also reduces wear and tear on baseload power plants, which operate year-round to provide depend- able electricity at a low cost, and can make electric distribution systems run more efficiently. All these opportunities add up to cost savings for consumers.”


At present, pumped-storage hydro—a hydroelectric plant that generates pow- er by using water previously pumped to an elevated reservoir during off-peak hours, when electricity is less expensive—remains the largest-capacity form of energy storage available. Another option, compressed-air energy storage—pow- er plants “fueled” by air pushed into an underground cavern during times of low electricity consumption—has received increased attention because it can be expanded relatively cheaply. PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, a generation and transmission cooperative based in Andalusia, Ala., operates one of only a handful of compressed-air energy storage facilities in the United States. “Pumped-storage hydro and compressed-air energy storage facilities generally operate when electric use soars,” mentions John Holt, former NRECA senior manager of generation & fuels. “But geography limits where they can be located.”


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XTreme Power’s DPR 15-100C containerized battery energy storage unit is part of testing by electric cooperatives on the viability of harnessing and stabilizing renewable energy. Courtesy photo of XTreme Power


That means development of better batteries could be the key to wide use of energy storage technologies. Before central station electric service came to rural America via the electric cooperative movement in the 1930s, farmers used “battery sets” that were re- charged with windmills and ram pumps. Like conventional sealed lead-acid car batteries, those contraptions could go only through a limited number of dis- charge-charge cycles before they were exhausted.


Fast-forward to 2013, and developers are aiming for batteries that can func- tion through 80 percent discharge for 10,000 cycles—allowing for longevity of three decades or more.


“If you’re supplementing wind or solar, you’re going through a complete cycle on a daily basis,” Bradshaw notes. “In other words, a long cycle life re- mains key.”


What energy storage means for the future The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that energy storage will signifi - cantly change the electric grid. With it, the nation could possibly create an electricity “stockpile” like the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. But initially, energy storage systems will make renewable generation sources more fi nancially feasi- ble—a critical step as U.S. lawmakers contemplate ways to create a more diverse energy production portfolio.


“Co-ops could also use battery storage systems to cut down on blinks—those


momentary service interruptions that force you to reset your digital clocks,” Bradshaw notes. “If enough energy is stored, power could continue to fl ow to homes during an event.”


He concludes: “Electric cooperatives are leading the charge in researching and testing energy storage systems that will directly benefi t consumers—from reduced operational costs and better service reliability to environmentally re- sponsible power production.”


Sources: Cooperative Research Network, U.S. Department of Energy, NRECA


Magen Howard writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service organization for the nation’s 900- plus consumer-owned, not-for-profi t electric cooperatives. Additional information provided by RE Magazine.


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