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Football Pitch-Sized Batteries Could Change the World of Renewable Energy

By James Burgess | Sun, 08 January 2012 17:00 | 4

2011 saw huge advances in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, and these advancements will continue into 2012. In fact 2012 could be the year that renewable energy sources start to seriously compete with traditional fossil fuels, at least that is the hope in the battle to reduce carbon emissions and our dependence on dwindling oil stocks. However a major problem with renewable energy sources is that they can rarely provide consistent power levels, due to a myriad of factors outside of human control.

Eric Wesoff, an industry analyst with Greentech Media, explains that, “A wind farm only works when the blades are spinning. It might have a nameplate capacity of 100 megawatts, but it never puts out that much. Sometimes it’s 70; sometimes it’s nothing. To a grid operator, that kind of resource is a headache rather than an aspirin.” To overcome these fluctuations energy storage systems can be used to store excess power at peak generating times and release it when needed to provide a more constant level. “So now that 100-MW wind farm can say, ‘We’re a 40-MW, steady-state, 24/7 energy source’—more like a coal plant. That’s more valuable to society.”

The most abundant energy storage system in use around the world is the battery, but producing giant batteries for the electrical grid has always been very expensive. Lots of research has been done into small batteries for mobile phones and MP3 players, etc. and now, according to Haresh Kamath, program manager for energy-storage research at the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). “The research applied to those industries is now being applied to batteries for the grid.” In fact the world’s largest battery array, a $500 million system capable of storing 36 megawatt-hours of electricity, has recently been completed in China by the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) and the electric car maker BYD. As part of China’s push toward a smart grid system for renewable energy, the battery has been hooked up to 140 megawatts of solar and wind power generation as well as a smart grid transmission system. And we can expect more of these battery facilities after the Deputy Director of China’s National Energy Administration called it the model for the future of Chinese renewable energy development.

As one of the first large battery systems for grid-level energy storage it will prove an intriguing test-bed for the rest of the world to watch and learn from. However we could also have a new, bigger example to study in a few years after Rubenius, the Dubai-based company, finalised plans to build an unprecedented energy-storage facility in Mexicali. Being positioned near the border it will help improve the reliability of both the US and Mexican grids, paving the way for more solar and wind power in both countries.

Giant Batteries for the grid have been seriously discussed for several years and are a very popular idea. In fact, Rubenius estimates that the grid battery market will be worth US $30 billion per year, “plus or minus $5 billion,” says Jacob Rikard Nielsen, vice president of business development. “Of course, that’s not going to materialize tomorrow. But as the technology matures and utilities gain experience, we’ll get to that market status in the next 10 years. I’m quite optimistic.”

It will be interesting to see how the new battery arrays in China and Mexicali fair. If both prove to be a resounding success it really could change the face of renewable energies the world over. Not to mention the huge market that it could create in the development and construction of the facilities.

By. James Burgess of Oilprice.com

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James Burgess
Company: Oilprice.com

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  • Mike Straub on January 10 2012 said:
    100 yard long batteries sound "exciting" but the real answer lies in innovations of base-load power. That's why pushing things like Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion is key. It works 24/7/365. As long as there is a difference in water temperature, there will be endless clean electricity. Plus, the byproduct of an OTEC system is clean drinking water. I hate to wonder what the byproducts are of a 100 yard long battery. OTEC is growing fast in the Caribbean, the Bahamas has a deal to build 2 OTEC plants. Here's more info on that deal...http://www.theonproject.org/2011/the-bahamas-sign-memorandum-of-understanding-to-build-two-otec-plants/?utm_source=oilprice&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=mscommentIt won't solve every energy problem, but it can change the lives of millions living in tropical regions.
  • Tobias Brox on January 10 2012 said:
    A 36 MWh battery for USD 500M, that works out at 13 USD/Wh, it's insane! Further, even with lead acid, an article at the oil drum pointed out that there simply isn't enough lead in the world for big-scale power storage.Transforming a 100 MW wind farm to a 40 MW reliable 24/7 power plant through the use of chemical batteries is just an utterly futile project unless someone can invent a battery based on carbon/silicon.36 MWh is useful for phase control and for minor adjustments throughout the day, but for the 100 MW wind farm it wouldn't last an hour in calm weather.There was an article on the oil drum pointing out that it's fairly common with periods lasting 3-4 days with very little wind output all over Europe. Wind+solar did not fully solve the problem. In addition there were seasonal variations.I'm all for wind - but we need to adjust the demand side to exploit it.
  • MichaelperlmanPhD on January 10 2012 said:
    Giant battery sites all need to be distributive and not stand alone. The problem in the US is that no one wouldwant them in their neighborhoods, it is the problem of "not in my backyard".
  • Todd Millions on January 11 2012 said:
    A disingenous approach from all angles.Powerlines can shift intermitent production as easily as intermitent loads.Buildings that cool themselves without power were deveoped in 1940,s.Self heating(and cooling)buildings in the 1980's.And load redux/elimination are far quicker,cheaper.Claims that 200mpg performance requires carbon fibre construction in cars is also a load of BS-foam backed" metal balloon" construction was used on aircraft in the 1960,s.In specific and isolated systems and set ups where electrical storage is needed,surely a super flywheel system is a much better apprach,as it is with sub station stabilization systems.Or stand alone but hooked too grid set ups for homes of those who don't fancy being held hostage too mafias.

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