Solving The Northwest's Energy Storage Puzzle

Nov 3, 2017

As the Northwest moves toward using more renewable energy like wind and solar, one big issue keeps popping up. What to do when there’s too much power on the grid?

When there's not enough demand to run air-conditioners, heaters, or other appliances, all that clean energy just goes to waste.

But several utilities in Oregon are starting to figure out how to store that extra energy.

Partly in response to a legislative requirement, Portland General Electric Company is proposing to develop several projects.

The 2015 Oregon Legislature mandated the state’s large utilities obtain up to one percent of the 2014 peak load of energy storage projects. PGE is now proposing a variety of projects, which would total 39 megawatts of energy storage.

PacifiCorp is still developing its final plan — due by the end of this year. The Oregon Public Utility Commission must approve both utilities’ energy storage plans.

Steve Corson, a spokesman with PGE, said the utility is testing several different models to best use energy storage.

“The end goal of all of this is to have a cleaner energy system, a cleaner grid, and at the same time have a more flexible and resilient system,” Corson said.

That includes installing storage alongside existing solar and biomass facilities; installing batteries at a substation that’s integrated with one of PGE’s solar facilities; and starting a pilot project to install batteries at people’s homes.

That should help PGE integrate renewable power into its system while still keeping everything stable, Corson said.

PGE will spend between $50 million and $100 million on the various projects.

There have been other large third-party energy storage proposals in the region, said an energy analyst at the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, but utilities haven’t yet found them cost-effective enough.

According to the council, researchers are investigating 23 grid-level storage projects in the Northwest.

Utility-scale batteries are “often the size of shipping containers, (they) can be ganged together to supply a lot of power economically to the electric power grid for minutes or hours during a day and then recharge,” wrote the council’s spokesman, John Harrison, in a blog post.

California, New York, and Texas have also developed energy storage research or plans.

But those systems may not work as well in the Northwest, Corson said, with the region’s specific energy needs and resources.

Unlike other regions, the Northwest generates an abundance of energy in the spring, when winds are strong and rivers with hydroelectric dams are running fast. Batteries could store up that energy for when it's needed to kick in for air conditioning and heating in the summer and winter months.

In Washington, the state Utilities and Transportation Commission recently directed utilities to plan for energy storage projects, including the technologies' cost and benefits.

“Energy storage is a key enabling technology for utilities to accomplish the goals of the state’s energy policies,” the UTC said in the policy statement. “Washington’s investor-owned utilities should be working diligently to identify and pursue cost-effective opportunities to incorporate energy storage into their systems.”

Puget Sound Energy is testing a 2-megawatt battery storage pilot project, working with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory — the lab has been working on energy storage projects for several years.

“You’re going to see more of these. Just guaranteed, you’re going to see more of these,” said PSE consulting engineer Paul Jusak, in a video news release.

Copyright 2017 EarthFix. To see more, visit EarthFix.