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Oliver discusses energy storage at MIT Enterprise Forum
6/22/2012 12:00 AM
Energy storage has the potential to change the industry landscape for the better, BPA's Terry Oliver told a Seattle audience at a recent panel discussion hosted by the
MIT Enterprise Forum of the Northwest
"Energy storage could transform the electric industry the way the cloud is changing how we store and retrieve data. So the potential of the technology makes it a really exciting topic," said Oliver, BPA's chief technology innovation officer.
Oliver joined a panel May 8 that included Nathan Adams, manager of development and emerging technologies, Puget Sound Energy; Chris Wheaton, chief operating and financial officer, EnerG2; and Alexander Slocum, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who participated via video chat from Boston. Bill Holmes, a partner at Stoel Rives, moderated the panel.
The speakers explored some of the burning questions surrounding the subject, such as when the time might be right for cost-effective energy storage, the scalability of grid-ready technologies and whether utilities and generators can adapt quickly to new technologies.
For grid operators like BPA, the ability to capture and release energy on demand could solve a number of challenges, including managing peak demands and integrating variable resources like wind and solar. Right now, without storage, grid operators smooth over differences between scheduled power generation and actual production by ramping up or tapering off generating resources in real time. Energy storage might even help increase grid reliability and reduce the need for new transmission lines and generation.
Storage could also resolve the regional challenge of having more natural power than there's demand for. In late spring and early summer, the Northwest periodically faces situations when there's a lot of wind blowing and a lot of water in the river system without enough demand or market for the power. (This is referred to as
.) In this case, generators could store and save that excess power until it's needed instead of having to scale down or shut off generation.
But it's not without its blemishes. There are lots of storage methods out there, including batteries, flywheels, pump storage, compressed air, hydrogen and demand response, but many technologies are still in development and are unproven as viable solutions for integration on the power grid. They also tend to be application-specific and the costs and benefits vary greatly; for the Pacific Northwest, the costs versus benefits present the biggest challenge.
For it to make financial sense in the Pacific Northwest, the storage solution would need to be more efficient and cost-effective than storing water in reservoirs, or it would need to provide significant benefits during those times when the FCRPS operating flexibility is limited.
"There isn't a clear winner in the large-scale storage technology race, so we're investing in different research to find out what might work best in the Northwest," added Oliver.
BPA and its Technology Innovation Office is funding a number of storage research projects, including pumped storage; smart end-use energy storage, which studies the use of smart appliances and other end-uses like water heating to help balance changes in generation; and a project that's researching the feasibility of
storing energy within the abundant basalt rock in the Columbia Basin.
While waiting for energy storage technologies to mature, BPA is exploring demand response for balancing power system needs. Simply put, demand response technologies allow utilities to offer end-use customers incentives to alter their energy consumption during times when wholesale power prices and energy demand on the grid are high. In the Northwest, demand response also has the potential to help utilities integrate increasing amounts of wind power and renewable energy.
BPA has partnered with technology firms and utilities on pilot projects to study how changes in when commercial and industrial facilities consume energy can help Northwest utilities manage the capacity of energy during times of high demand. The avoided energy use can substitute for the purchase of more expensive energy on the open market and development of new energy resources.
The MIT Enterprise Forum, headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., is a global network of 28 nonprofit chapters that educates entrepreneurs in the technology and business communities. For more from the storage forum, read the paper "
Energy Storage for the Grid - Watchful Waiting for the Perfect Storm.
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