We’ve written previously about the dispute between the Bonneville Power Administration and owners of wind facilities in the Pacific Northwest. The BPA, when storms create a simultaneous surplus of wind and rain and threaten to overwhelm the grid, has to give away free power. Sometimes, it has had to resort to essentially unplugging wind turbines connected to the grid because the hydroelectric equivalent, routing excess water around the dams, could harm salmon by creating excess bubbles. (You can read more about the ongoing controversy in this alert from Stoel Rives).
At the recent National Electricity Forum, Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu addressed the issue of unpredictable surges and deficits in power generation, which is likely to emerge more widely as installations of renewable energy projects expand. One of Chu’s suggestions was to use batteries, storing extra energy generated during times of peak production for use at times of low production. Currently, a battery needed to store one kilowatt hour, the amount electricity needed to run a window air-conditioner for an hour, costs $350. Compared to the $0.11 that amount of energy costs, paying for such a battery may seem ridiculous.
So what to do about it? The Obama Energy Department as part of its clean energy research strategy has been creating “hubs” to promote advanced research on areas of particular interest since 2010, aiming to bring together teams of scientists and engineers across disciplines to rapidly accelerate scientific discoveries and speed the transition between laboratory and commercial deployment.
On Wednesday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced plans to launch an Energy Innovation Hub, the fourth such hub, for research on batteries and energy storage with an investment of up to $120 million over five years. It will focus on electrochemical energy storage for transportation and the electric grid, including utility-scale storage, hoping to improve reliability and efficiency of the electrical grid, to better integrate clean technologies in our electrical systems, and for use in electric vehicles.