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Renewable Energy's Achilles' Heel Is Storage
8/31/2011

Strings of lead-acid batteries can store energy in low-megawatt capacities.  (Photo courtesy of Electric Power Research Institute.)
Strings of lead-acid batteries can store energy in low-megawatt capacities.
(Photo courtesy of Electric Power Research Institute.)

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Beth Stackpole
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Shortage of storage
Beth Stackpole   8/31/2011 8:18:14 AM
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Very informative, Chuck, and timely. Count me as one of the avid readers of all of those pieces that talk about the alternatives with "nary a mention" of storage, as you point out. So what constitutes storage for alternative wind and solar energy--Is it containers, is it smart grid technology (whatever that constitutes)? What exactly are we talking here? Are there any early leader technologies that are likely to steer the way?

Charles Murray
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Re: Shortage of storage
Charles Murray   8/31/2011 9:08:01 AM
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Beth: Pumped hydro, which has been around for decades, is the leading way to store energy right now. When power is available, they pump water up a hill and store it in a lake or some other body of water. When power is unavailable (i.e., the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining), they use gravity to let the water run back down. As it runs down, it spins a turbine that's used to create electricity. There are other methods used today, such as compressed air energy storage (CAES), which is gaining some momentum. Those methods are probably unlikely to replace the loss of nuclear plants, however, because of "siting" issues. Most areas either don't have the geography or the willingness to use them. More recently, battery farms have started to gain favor. But we would need incredible numbers of batteries and battery facilities to make that happen. Another method is "vehicle-to-grid," which is a proposed idea in which electric cars would send their battery charge back to the grid. The bottom line is this: Electrical power is used at the moment it's created; if we have large percentages of intermittent power, such as wind and solar, we'll have to learn how to store it.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Shortage of storage
Beth Stackpole   8/31/2011 9:20:45 AM
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Thanks for clarifying, Chuck. So if I'm following you correctly, it's not necessarily tapping the excess power generated by a wind farm or solar array and storing it somewhere for later use (like we store data in server farms, for example), but rather creating yet another alternative power source or methodology to kick in when those alternative wind and solar power sources aren't live due to lack of wind or sun. Is that what you're saying?

I definitely have mixed feeling on nukes. But having lived within less than 10 miles of a plant my entire life, both in NY and in Massachusetts, why not make R&D investments in improving nuke storage and disaster recovery technology. That way, we turn aging infrastructure into state-of-the-art operations centers that can go the distance for the energy demands of the next few decades.

Charles Murray
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Re: Shortage of storage
Charles Murray   8/31/2011 9:37:22 AM
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Beth: Right, it's a matter of using the electrical current when it's available to create a potential source of energy that can be used at a later time when the current is unavailable. The problem is electrical current can't be stored. We use it as it's created. When a wind turbine is spinning, we have to use its power immediately. If we depend on it for 40% or 50% of our power and the wind stops blowing, we risk having no power.  

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Shortage of storage
Rob Spiegel   8/31/2011 10:14:41 AM
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Nice article, Chuck. You mentioned pumped hydro for storage. Is it possible that could be a solution on a larger scale? Or, are there efficiency problems (perhaps energy loss in the storing and retrieving). Can it be done on a scale that doesn't involve a lake?

Charles Murray
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Re: Shortage of storage
Charles Murray   8/31/2011 10:40:45 AM
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Rob: Up to now, pumped hydro sites have been very large. I'm not familiar with any smaller ones, but they may be out there. As I understand it, there has been some "not-in-my-backyard" mentality that has limited it to some degree, not to mention the fact that the bigger sites need tremendous amounts of open land that may be distant from the metropolitan areas that need power.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Platinum
Re: Shortage of storage
Jack Rupert, PE   8/31/2011 12:20:02 PM
It seems that the major driving force of the renewables is their so-call environmentally friendly advantage.  At least, that is what those driving the subsidies to those markets are saying.  However, I wonder what the net impact is when the entire systems is looked at.  How much space is required for the farms or the hydro storage? What happens when the batteries die?  What sort of infrastructure is necessary, say, for a factory to have its own battery house?  Even more important, at the end of the day what is cost per KWH?

pvalenta
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Re: Shortage of storage
pvalenta   8/31/2011 12:31:44 PM
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Thermal Energy Storage (TES) in typical applications makes up about 30% of a hybrid cooling system.  The amount amount of space required for that is relative equivalent of the amount the water heater requires in the average 2,000 sq. ft. home.  Partial ice storage systems require 1/4 of 1% of the conditioned space.  Water thermal energy storage requires more space.

Some ice storage systems are 99% reuseable or recyleable making them a very sustainable choice.  Ice energy storage systems typically will last over 30 years and not degrade in performance like batteries making them an ideal choice to store energy and lower connected load.

Of course all forms of energy storage will be needed to make renewable energy goals possible and viable.  Utilities like to build and manage large projects so TES often is overlooked when it is a viable and necessary part of the solution.

Renewable energy will need the smart grid.  The smart grid will need smart buildings.  Smart buildings will need energy storage operate efficiently and affordable.

3D_Eng
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Re: Shortage of storage
3D_Eng   8/31/2011 10:06:30 AM
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I agree Beth.  Nuclear energy definitely has its safety and environmental concerns but is a primary source of low carbon emission energy. It seems that this would be a good time to start investing again in advancing this technology.  The cost of replacing existing nuclear plants with the same or greater capacity will have a serious impact on the cost of business or on carbon dioxide emissions.  It is going to take a robust and mature technology to reliably replace 14% of the worlds electrical generation.

Energy storage seems to be a limiting factor in many of our alternative energy technologies.  I think an up-and-coming issue for storage is the environmental impact of the storage technologies.  For instance, battery farms comprised of lead-acid batteries may be low cost but present their own environmental concerns and challenges when applied on the required scale.  Energy storage is also an additional cost to renewable energy sources which are currently more expensive per KW than conventional sources.   In the end the whole package needs to meet the energy needs of a country at a cost that is competitive to other generation methods.

I suspect that these and other factors will in time swing the pendulum back towards nuclear energy.

 

pvalenta
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Re: Shortage of storage
pvalenta   8/31/2011 11:37:21 AM
I agree that storage is vital piece of a viable renewable energy strategy.  Air-conditioning has helped to create demand issues and it can be part of the solution as well.

In 2006 Buildings used over 70% of electricity produced so designs and changes to their consumption can impact the grid dramatically.  High Performance Buildings designs, both new and retrofit, using hybrid cooling systems that include thermal energy storage can help provide the grid with energy storage.  Buildings with energy storage can act as virtual generators when renewable energy is not available because of weather related issues.  Additionally, these storage systems can provide a load for night time wind that is currently wasted because of low night time loads.  Thermal energy storage in buildings can help the intermittant aspect of renewable energy while creating a load for it as well making the economics of renewable energy more viable.

Thermal energy storage systems are affordable and can be applied to a wide range of facilites including K-12 Schools, Community Colleges, Universities, Hospitals, and Offices.  Product improvements, better design tools, and improved practices have made thermal energy storage systems both affordable and reliable providing cost savings for users, storage for the grid, and lower demand during summer peaks for the utility.

Successful implementors of thermal energy storage include Stanford University, the University of Arizona, SAP US headquarters in PA, Bank of America in NY, as well as Sarasota and Hillsborough County Schools in Florida to name a few.

Thermal energy storage need to be discussed more at state and federal levels to make sure policymakers understand the how thermal energy storage can help. Bills like California’s recently passed AB 2514 represent a good start at the state level. AB 2514 calls on the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to open a proceeding to establish a common framework for valuing the costs and benefits associated with storage, to help ensure that regulated utilities consider storage alongside other options for meeting reliability needs. In doing so, the bill it will bring various stakeholders together and elevate storage into the daily discussions about how we serve future energy needs. What role will storage play, at the lowest possible cost and in an environmentally responsible manner?

On the Federal level, bills like last year’s STORAGE Act can help extend tax credits, financial incentives and loan guarantees to energy storage projects, while the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and many state PUCs are taking steps to understand how to value storage in a regulatory sense, and to measure its cost-effectiveness. 

So, please, don't forget to mention thermal energy storage as part of the storage solution reqired for implementation of renewable energy.

 

 

Tim
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Re: Shortage of storage
Tim   8/31/2011 12:10:09 PM
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Increases in the use of geothermal energy particularly in larger buildings does have high potential to reduce electricity need for local communities.  Some municipalities have seen this and are starting to mandate the use of geothermal technology on new construction over certain square footage. 

pvalenta
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Iron
Re: Shortage of storage
pvalenta   8/31/2011 12:35:59 PM
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Thermal Energy Storage (TES), ice for example, combined with central geothermal systems offer storage and efficiency.  Ice storage with geothermal heat pumps can provide a very efficient flexible cooling system for smart buildings.  Here is a great example at this link.  http://www.blattnerenergy.com/about_responsibility_green.php

John Casey
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Re: Shortage of storage
John Casey   8/31/2011 2:48:56 PM
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If water electrolysis efficiency and hydrogen fuel cell technology could be improved, this would provide an ideal method of energy storage.

SteveSalt
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Iron
Re: Shortage of storage
SteveSalt   9/1/2011 9:43:54 AM
Many additional solutions have been voiced. But habitually as engineers we see the pitfalls of the solutions but forget that others do not. Build dams for storage-they break and flood. Fuel-cells how many chemicals are left over or will there be water safety problems? Nuclear is being tried, but now we see what happens when we have that unexpected Tsunami or meteor or saboteur? Trapped pressure then the tank ruptures. Even Hoover dam one of the best renewable energy sources developed has issues.

There will not be perfect results in any solution developed. At some point the people, lawers, government is going to have to realize we can not have it all. We also may have to stop living as high on the hog as in the past.

In any case we improve with every itteration and disaster that occurs.

John.Lashnits
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Re: Shortage of storage
John.Lashnits   9/1/2011 11:26:50 AM
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I haven''t seen anyone mention molten-salt energy storage....seems like it's worth pursuing. "SolarReserve, a Los Angeles, CA-based company, is planning to build a baseload solar power plant in the Nevada desert with almost five times the output of Gemasolar. Tonopah’s planned 110 MW capacity will generate 480,000 MWh per year.  The Tonopah tower will be 653 feet (199 meters).  It will also use molten-salt energy storage (MSES) technology developed by Rocketdyne to build baseload solar capability and dispatch power on demand.  According to SolarReserve, the project will use  generate enough electricity annually to “power 75,000 homes during peak electricity periods.”(4)  Tonopah is strategically located a few miles East of the California border and about half way between Las Vegas and Reno, NV"


Hamilton Sundstrand's Rocketdyne business will provide heat-resistant pumps and other equipment, as well as the expertise in handling and storing salt that has been heated to more than 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit. The company says plants using this method will be able to generate as much as 500 megawatts of peak power or run continuously at 50 megawatts.
Molten salt loses only about 1% of its heat during a day, making it possible to store energy for long periods of time. The salt is a mixture of sodium and potassium nitrate.

jthomson
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Re: Shortage of storage
jthomson   9/1/2011 12:43:03 PM
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Pumped Hydro systems in service today were developed largely to provide energy storage for nuclear power.  Nuclear power stations operate more or less at a fixed output, so have a storage problem in reverse.  In the 70's, excess output at night was driving the spot market price of electricity below zero (you get paid to use it!).  So both nuclear power and renewable energy require storage. 

This should not be a surprise.  Storage is a key feature of any energy system.  Fossil fuel is, after all, stored energy.  We will have to live with the costs of converting some of our power, nuclear or renewable into a stored form, chemical, thermal or hydraulic to name only three.  There are many possibilityies, of interest in the hydro power area is the use of underground boreholes with large weighted pistons that are lifetd and allowed to fall in the same way a pumped hydro plant operates.  These systems offer small footprints and employ established technologies. 

Jerry dycus
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Gold
Re: Shortage of storage
Jerry dycus   9/1/2011 12:59:34 PM
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   These are carnards saying that RE isn't good because it's unreliable.  And why is one reason above all is demand is far more variable than RE supply with demand varying by 5-1=10-1 rates vs RE  much less, maybe 3-1.YMMV

  Next what happens when a nuke shuts down losing a Gw in one second?  So it too needs back up and far more and these shutdowns  happen almost every day in the US.  While rarely does RE just stop but slopes  down over time, making RE far easier to intergrate.

 Solar has the advantage over nuke in that it happens mostly when needed so far more valuable than always on nukes which about have to give away night time energy production in many cases.

I basically like nukes but they are way too expensive, long to build. What we need are far cheaper, smaller 4 gen nukes with lead, etc working fluids making them far more safe than the antique boiling water units you have to work at to keep from blowing up.

I'm not sure about utility storage but simple lead batteries like used in golfcarts store electricity for under $10/kw/yr, $.01/kwhr and I can't believe utilities can't do that too.  But they don't really need storage as they just turn on, off generators as needed to meet demand.  Only recently has any thought went into even varying the output of these generators but recently they have come throttable from 50-100% power.

Now add more of these as coal plants get replaced by CCGT, home storage to keep power in blackouts or use ones EV, hybrid for back up there or even feed power back into the grid.

But best is millions of small home, business RE where it in most areas even beats coal on price, because they are so many and spread out so much they vary very little as the average each other nicely. As for costs I can buy retail PV at under $1.50/wt, under what is needed to beat coal power price.

Now added to eff buildings with both heat/cold storage, solar thermal panels attached to NG powerplants to reduce it's NG needs when available, hydro storage and many other techs will solve any minor storage problem that might show up in the future but storage problem is just a canard to keep the competition down.

Hellmut Kohlsdorf
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Gold
Re: Shortage of storage
Hellmut Kohlsdorf   9/1/2011 9:26:24 AM
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The issue of changing from traditional sources of energy to renewables requires a more complete look of the variations of energy generatable from the different sources of renewable energy. Here in germany an experiment is ongoing testing in real life how the mixture of renewable energy sources are able to cope with the conditions in real life and through all seasons in our area. So far the results look very promissing! Allow me to expand a bit on it!

The key to solving the match of available generated renewable energy top the demand fluctuation lies in the mis of technologies involved. So we mix i.e. wind, solar, water biomass ernergy plants over the whole country, from offshore wind parks in the north sea and across the country to solar energy in the south. Ofcourse water as a storage and storage of gas in the underground.

Besides the dangers of operating nuclear plants as exemplified in Japan and elsewhere, how do we want to handle in a responsable and sustained way the storing of the nuclear waste for the short period of 100,000 years and more? We that are just as the modern human being on the face of this earth since a couple of thousands of years! If the cost for this would be added to that of operating the nuclear plants the economical picture looks different! Why is no opereator of an nuclear plant capable to pay for an insurance for his plan? Because he couldn´t afford to pay the rate if he is able to find an insurance company willing to insure the risk!

But may be we just need to ask ourselves what more God needs to tell us for us humans to understand it!:)

Bringier
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Bronze
Re: Shortage of storage
Bringier   9/1/2011 1:45:23 PM
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Luddites are like roaches. They will always be around. They are also like 'the poor' - which is hard to define, but generally means anyone with less than another. The USA needs borders to keep people out. The Soviet Union needed borders and walls to keep people in. All I hear is 'Germany, France, UK, and Japan'. How about China? By our standards 90% of Chinese live in poverty.

At MIT in 1957 about 1/3 of all students were from foreign countries. They were the best and brightest. Most went home & hopefully made their homelands better. Many optioned to stay here & we are the better for it. Read 'The Making of the Atomic Bomb' - a history of that project and of much modern science in general. The contributons were from many nations.

Nuclear power is very safe. No one died as a result of Three Mile Island. "China Syndrome' was a movie made BEFORE the accident and quickly released to enhance the 'anti-nuke' movement. Little research is done today. Storage in deep, stable underground facilities in Utah desert areas is something I would definitely insure! There are few of the millions of windmills that once pumped water in the farmlands that remain active. Those farmers who thought ahead built storage tanks. Others had to hand-pump for family and animals.

Wind & solar are 'peaking power' and will not replace coal, natural gas, and nuclear as a source. (We have maxed our hydroelectric.) Maybe Whale Oil for the evening lighting? Chop down trees & have a Franklin Stove for heat? I am a 6th generation American. My family was very successful in Louisiana before it became a state. My ancestors were very involved in the sugar industry both in cultivation and refining. Today we are taking corn off the food market & making ethenol - an inferior fuel unless produced by sugar cane as is done in Brazil. I am now in Texas & we grow crops, produce cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens & more. We ALSO produce & refine LOTS of oil & gas. I see no wells on either the east or west coasts. BUT Mass doesn't even want a wind turbine!

I am a retired engineer. I am a realist & not an idealist. Unlike many engineers I am literate & have studied history. From before the 20th century America became an energy based economy. Steamboats fired with wood or coal gave way to oil. TVA, etc harnessed hydroelectric power. Offshore oil in 1945. Nuclear power soon after. ARE WE TO FORGET OR FOLLOW LIKE PUPPIES THE LUDDITES THAT SAY 'ENERGY IS BAD'? Look around you. I bet that 50% involves petrol products. "OH NOT MY COTTON SHIRT". Farmer grew it it with fertilizer, planted & harvisted with tractors, trucked the product to a gin, where it went to a factory where people made the shirt. Every step was made using energy and 90% is petrol based.

I'm sick of politicans who think that $Billion is a tiny number. We import 50% of oil. We have enough to insure energy independence for at least 100 years based on CURRENT TECHNOLOGY. In 1970 we were told about a 'New Ice Age'. In 2000 it was 'Global Warming' and melting ice caps. In 1970 we were told that USA oil reserves were declining. We filled salt domes with reserves. Today we have TWICE the proven reserves than was said in 1970. BUT we are not allowed to drill for it.

So just drive your Prius and pretend that when you plug it in you are saving the earth. (If you don't know, most electrical energy is from coal, natural gas, or nuclear - less than 1% from wind or solar). No Air Conditioning but you can have fans? Maybe if you can harness a stream or store wind or solar energy. Maybe the Government can give you 40 acres and a Mule in West Texas, Utah, wherever. If you want to 'return to nature' move south to Mexico or east to central Africa.

Bill   WBringier@Gmail.com  

sbkenn
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Gold
Re: Shortage of storage
sbkenn   9/1/2011 10:05:53 AM
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When an efficient storage is found, we will still need to:

Massively REDUCE our use of electricity.  Where is the majority of our energy used ?  Can the consumer store it ?  Micro-nuclear, micro-fossil, micro-wind, and micro solar, along with mirco-storage, IMO, will all be needed. Produce the electricity close to where it is used, and use ALL the energy, heat included.

  Also, IMO, the ban on incandescent lamps by the EU is premature.  In most places that they are used, the "wasted" energy is not wasted, as the consumer also needs heat.  The waste is when the required heat is allowed to escape from the building.

 

Shane

wankap
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Iron
Re: Shortage of storage
wankap   9/1/2011 1:56:34 PM
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The FCHTMC engine, flying-magnet-dynamo and ecological retrieval of geothermal energy are poised to step forward to champion the replacement of Nuclear Energy and there is no waste material at all! The design is perfectly scalable. Therefore, one may replace the turbines in the nuclear plants with flying-magnet-dynamos powered by large FCHTMC engines. The efficiency of the operation would ring up new scales on cheaper electricity yet unfound. There is no danger to the operators, and reliable operation is assured.

Ivan Kirkpatrick
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Platinum
Residential Storage
Ivan Kirkpatrick   8/31/2011 10:18:10 AM
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Maybe each house and business could have a battery for storing energy to be available when needed.  Similar to the vehicl to grid idea except that the homeowner has a stationary battery located on premises.  

The cost of the battery might be subsidized to some degree.  The incentive for the homeowner would be that power costs are lower when the renewables are online and he can charge his battery.  Othertimes when the renewables are not online the cost is higher so the battery kicks in and helps to keep power usage down.  The homeowner could choose how much battery he needed.

This would create a bigger market for new battery technologies and promote the use of renewables.  It would also allow for the homewowner make use of his own renewables as well if he were to install PV arrays or wind turbines.  Another advantage to the homeowner would be that if he has variable rates for the energy he buys then he could charge the battery during low rate hours and use it during his own peak usage hours.

I can see a lot of issues with it but I was just trying to think of some alternatives.  Making the battery systems distributed allows the investemnt and benefits to be spread around in a more distributed fashion.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Residential Storage
Beth Stackpole   8/31/2011 10:36:08 AM
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Ivan: I like your thinking. And over time, a home owner's investment in some type of storage mechanism is no different than having to invest in a fuel tank or a hot water tank or a furnance for that matter. It's all a matter of what you become accustomed to.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Platinum
Re: Residential Storage
Jack Rupert, PE   8/31/2011 12:28:24 PM
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Ivan, the idea of temporary storage at the residential location has some appeal, especially since more and more of us are getting emergency generators (either portable gasoline models or built in natural gas).  The question becomes, what size system would be needed at an average size house to meet the minium requirements for service continuation (i.e., a calm day for a wind power system) vs. longer term emergency backup for a couple days when a storm takes out power.

I do remember seeing an article about those mini reactors a while ago.  I think the concern with them, at least when I saw it was security.  From a purely technical point of view, I did like that solution.

brett_cgb
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Iron
Re: Residential Storage
brett_cgb   8/31/2011 2:58:16 PM
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Consider a few years into the future. Electric cars have been on the road for a while, and their batteries no longer have the capacity they once did (probably at 60-80% of original capacity) - its time to replace the battery.

What to do with the old battery? Re-use it!

The battery is no longer usefull for traction (e-vehicles), but it would serve well as stationary energy storage for a home or very small business, even at half the original capacity. Attach an inverter/charger, and volia! Instant local storage.

 

Tim
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Platinum
Re: Residential Storage
Tim   8/31/2011 5:38:15 PM
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That is a great use of old technology. As Ev's become more popular, we will need to find somewhere for all of those batteries to go.

Ivan Kirkpatrick
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Platinum
flywheels
Ivan Kirkpatrick   8/31/2011 11:33:09 AM
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One very interesting storage concept was a large rotating mass, a flywheel.  The idea was to put this mass in a vacuum and spin it very very fast.  Material limitations would be the upper limit on rotational speed.  As I recall the rotating mass was a disk of carbon fiber strands.  Carbon fiber strands had the highest strength in the materials considered.  The attached permanent magnet generator was inside the vacuum chamber as well.  This energy storage scheme was even proposed for vehicles.

None of these energy storage systems seems scalable and appropriate given all the difficulties so either we need a breakthrough or renewables are going to be limited to the previously mentioned 20% of total national grid capacity.  This problem is lost on the public media for the most part.

One other option not discussed here is smaller, 70 Mw, packaged nuclear plants.  They are being developed now in Oregon by Nu-Power I think and another company called Hyperion.  I believe the advantages are smaller and less costly, much safer, cheap to operate and maintain.  they can also be built in a factory and delivered to the site.   

plasticmaster
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Silver
small 70Mw nuclear power plants
plasticmaster   8/31/2011 10:06:10 PM
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I've got a problem running away from a challenge (or problem, depending how you look at it) just because I experienced a failure. Einstein comes to mind...instead of walking away from the lightbulb experiment, he is quoted saying "... And why would I ever give up? I now know definitively over [###] ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp."

The world needs clean, reliable ways to generate electricity. The United States is expected to need 300 gigawatts of new capacity – that’s 150 times the capacity of Hoover Dam – by 2030. Developing nations can only grow as fast as they can power their economies. Global demand for new electric capacity will outpace the U.S. by tenfold in the same period.

I think we need to embrace the great strides we've made in nuclear technology and figure out ways to conquer the down sides (i.e. where to put the waste OR recycle it by turning it into something else, weatherability, and what happens when it gets old).

Small Nuclear Power Plants

bakler
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Iron
Re: small 70Mw nuclear power plants
bakler   9/1/2011 9:39:49 AM
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,...and here all this time I thought it was Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb. :)

oldjag
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Iron
Re: small 70Mw nuclear power plants
oldjag   9/1/2011 10:57:05 AM
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It seems few people are looking at LFTR or Thorium fueled reactors.  Lots of benefits relative to current technology, ie. no meltdown issues, lower fuel costs, no proliferation hazards, and vastly lower waste generation.  Why is there not more R&D is not being done on Thorium fueled in the USA?  Also probably a lot easier to build in smaller sizes for local power generation.

mhoffman@solidsealing.com
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Iron
flywheel energy storage
mhoffman@solidsealing.com   9/1/2011 11:08:42 AM
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Flywheel energy stoage technology could be a choice. Beacon Power has just completed a 20 megawatt flywheel energy storage plant just 20 miuntes from me.

 

Nbultman
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Iron
Good Ideas
Nbultman   9/1/2011 12:37:50 PM
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There are so many good ideas that pop up here as folks comment on the article.  The main issue that I continually see as a major discouragement is that most citizens are so technically illiterate that its nearly impossible to have broad-based community dialog on these serious issues that we face.  We must somehow get folks educated well enough that they can participate in the process.

oswaldorey
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Iron
Smaller vs Larger
oswaldorey   9/1/2011 1:55:17 PM
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Maybe we ought to think different, maybe the solution is not to generate and store Megawatts, maybe a smart grid with many small local generators, be it a house, a building a neighborhood all hookep aup and generating energy for their use and sharing the unused power.

 

RE for very hi output power is probably no reasonable.

Impossible to replace a XXXMw nuclear plant with a similar RE plant.

wankap
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Iron
Re: Smaller vs Larger
wankap   9/1/2011 2:00:11 PM
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I have just completed the design of a new vertical windmill/generator. Vertical windmills do not care from which direction the wind arrives. There is no reaction time required. In this windmill, every vane is self-adjusting.

Kevin
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Platinum
Spot-On Article!
Kevin   9/1/2011 2:44:07 PM
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This article hits the nail on the head!  I've followed renewable energy technology my whole life, and storage is indeed a big missing link that has been ignored.  Here's an overview:

1.  Pumped hydro is OK - but only practical at limited locations.

2.  Flywheels don't hold enough energy.  Beacon Power = 25 KWh per unit (100KW peak output). 

3.  Compressed air = inefficient and only practical at limited locations.

4.  Solar Thermal - great potential and could be practical.  See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjwKIQ2ON-M

5.  Grid-Connected EV's = partial solution, but not very practical and problematic (do you want your EV car's battery to be depleted because the power grid had a brownout ?  Will your boss accept this excuse for not showing-up at work?).  Battery Farms = much too expensive and too limited life.

6.  Biofuels / Solar-synthesized fuels = great potential, not proven yet.

7.  Electrolysis / Hydrogen = great potential.  Efficiency of electrolysis is poor, but hopeful recent developments.

I think #4, 6, 7 should be a strong focus of research.  #6 could provide the best overall solution because energy infastructure could change the least (cars and trucks and airplanes could still burn a liquid fuel which is distributed by gas stations).  #4 and #7 could be great for the power grid, but this still leaves open the question of cars and especially trucks and airplanes. I think hydrogen is impractical / unsafe for an automotive fuel, and EV range and recharge times are completely impractical except for short commutes, therefore they are only a partial solution. 

Lastly - While EV's are part of the future energy solution, but are not really that helpful until we power the grid with renewable sources, and of course have adequate energy storage to make the grid reliable.

cheers, Kevin

GreenAvenger
User Rank
Iron
Re: Spot-On Article!
GreenAvenger   9/1/2011 4:41:17 PM
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Good wrap up Kevin, but the potential for battery powered vehicles is much better than you imply.

Have you ever used a drill with a removable battery pack?

Extend that same basic idea to electric vehicle use and you have the work of the company "Better Place."

The thing (the bad idea) that needs to go away for electric vehicles to be a success in the real world is the old idea of having the main battery be a permanent privately owned part of the vehicle.

Try thinking of a battery more like as a generic (reusable and transferrable) "standard size bucket" in which people can carry energy.

In such a "bucket" model you can own the bucket, you can lease it, or you can just rent one as you need it. But you don't have to store them all or charge them all at your house. That is done at charge stations scattered all over town.

And when you need more range (like for a road trip) you stop and pick up a full bucket of energy and you go on down the road and swap it out again and again.

If you really need more range (like for a road trip)... You hook up a (hydrocarbon powered electric generator trailer.) 

If we just stop thinking of batteries as a permanent parts of a vehicle suddenly the electric vehicle begins to look much more practical.

Kevin
User Rank
Platinum
Biofuels
Kevin   9/1/2011 2:55:56 PM
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I should have added - I'm not a fan of food-based biofuels (corn, etc.) which makes no sense and have low net efficiency, but algae-based or cellulistic, etc. are more hopeful.  Even better would be to synthesize a liquid fuel direct from sunlight, without the messy intermediate "living" process.

Kevin

SimpleSam
User Rank
Iron
Renewable Energy .....
SimpleSam   9/1/2011 7:17:46 PM
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You mentioned Car to Grid.  My idea is not about how to store a byproduct but using this byproduct as an fuel replacement.  Electricity is produced in large quantities by hydro plants using water as the source to create electricity or fosil fuels, wind power, solar power, gas etc.  The electricity produced has to be consumed right-of-way in most cases.  So there is a continiuos expenditure of fuels that are dwindling through time.  My idea is that we have the hydro-plants, the turbines, etc. Would it be possible to "convert" these machines to use the byproducts to run the turbines just like water does.  Solar, Air and gas may become plentiful, we have the power grids all over the country; by substituting one for the other we may not depend in fosil fuels to generate electricity.   And get rid of dams so many people are against.  Has anybody tried this before?  

Kevin
User Rank
Platinum
Hot-Swap Batteries / Flow Batteries
Kevin   9/1/2011 8:28:37 PM
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Green Avenger:

Yes...I agree this might be a workable / improved situation for EV's.  I think that the fact that each battery module has a high value (~$5K-$10K) and limited life might make it difficult to get consumers to accept them as generic hot-swap products.  To make this workable, the government probably would need to mandate a universal module standard and assemble an infastructure so that it could be practical for longer trips and multiple car brands, etc.

Another flavor that I forgot to mention is the recent advancements in flow battery technology.  It's too early to see if this will pan-out, but this would let electric cars recharge with a refill model not unlike today....but with some chemical that is recycled / recharged. 

If flow batteries could be made with high enough performance and low enough cost - this also could be interesting for buffering the grid.

Best of success with all the creative thinkers trying to solve these difficult problems!

Kevin

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Renewable energy and storage techniques,
William K.   9/1/2011 10:32:47 PM
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There is another way to use solar and wind energy, and whatever other ways that we can come up with. That is to come up with quick-startup fuel burning power plants, and then carefully monitor the renewable sources to see when they are waning. Of course, on the clouds issue, how about a bank of mirrors to direct enough energy on the clouds to burn thwm up befor they reach the PV arrays? If that could be done consistently then the clouds problem could be solved, at least for some areas. If anybody wishes to persue the cloud burning concept, fine, no royalty, just acknowleged that I invented it. For the wind generation systems, tapping high altitude winds does seem like a better approack, at some locations it seems like the wind should indeed keep on coming. There, efficient energy storage can be by putting hydraulic flud under pressure in accumulators, making it instantly available when needed. Best thing about it? No new discoveries needed to make it work. OF course, this is not that cheap, either. 

 

 

Robotech
User Rank
Silver
Flow Batteries
Robotech   9/1/2011 10:39:59 PM
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In the early 80's, Gulf & Western's Energy Development Associates division had developed large-scale zinc chloride flow battery systems for utility load leveling applications. They worked, and worked VERY well. We built a 5MW demonstration system for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and single modules were tested by one of the government research labs. We were also building electric vehicles using this technology capable of a range of 200 miles on a charge at between 45-50 mph, speeds of 70 mph on the highway, and took 5 hours to fully recharge.

The system required no exotic materials and ran at low temperatures, around the freezing point of water to around room temperature. The batteries also NEVER wore out. You would occasionally have to replace the electrolyte, but this was far safer to handle than the acid from lead-acid batteries, and much more environmentally friendly. (Think bleach with dissolved zinc and a few other minor additives.) Yes, it did use chlorine, but our primary patents were for the chlorine storage system, which nearly eliminated the problems of potential systems failures or leaks.

The batteries weren't really suitable for general consumer vehicles, but would have been fine for fleet operations, such as for delivery vehicles. But where they made the most sense was for large-scale stationary applications, such as these we need now for the renewable energy systems.

Unfortunately, changes in G&W's management shifted the corporate focus to the entertainment industry, and EDA was shut down, shelving the technology. But what was done once can be done again, and there are still those of us who remember how.

I've seen a few negative articles posted about this system and the company, written by people without any actual knowledge about it, or who had some other agenda. Sorry, but they are wrong. I was there, I helped build the systems and run the tests. It worked as advertised.

Now I'm not advocating this system for smaller installations, such as for homes or small business locations. For that I like hydrogen fuel-cell systems, preferably one that can also run on natural gas in addition to the hydrogen separated from water by whatever renewable system is used to generate electricity. A branch of another company I've worked for has a very viable hydrogen storage system.

We have all of the pieces we need to build these systems. We just have to decide to do it.

pete
User Rank
Iron
Re: Flow Batteries
pete   9/2/2011 12:40:28 PM
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I believe people are having some success using the vanadium redox battery. I read that a town in south Texas, and a town in Austrailia have them in service.

rdelaplaza
User Rank
Silver
Re: Flow Batteries
rdelaplaza   9/7/2011 3:13:47 PM
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You forgot to tell that the weight/enegy density ratio, (that's how many Kw per weight unit ) of those batteries is WAY BETTER than Lead/Acid batterires.

ALSO forgot to mention that this batteries can be discharged to 100 % of their capacity with absolutely NO PROBLEMS. compared to Lead Acid which can only be discharget to an aproximately 80% of their capacity, before they start to degenerate badly.

Partial recharges wil have NO problems, so if you only have time to recharge, lets say 35% of the capacity, then disconnect and GO, ... any time, many times; NO problem.

The technology is developed and there are several manufacturers refining the product NOW, like the company RedFlow in Australia http://www.redflow.com/

There are several chemistries in the Flow batteries technology, a Japanese wind-project developer Japan Wind Development Co. In May, the company started a 51-megawatt wind farm and linked it to a 34-megawatt battery system developed by NGK Insulators Ltd. of Nagoya, Japan. The energy-storage system will have enough capacity to power approximately 26,000 homes, by storing the energy generated by the wind farm and then redistributing that power during the day.

Utilities like American Electric Power Co. of Columbus, Ohio, are also working with NGK, although on a much smaller scale. According to Ali Nourai, AEP's executive in charge of distributed power generation and energy storage, the company has installed five NGK batteries with 7 megawatts of capacity in total, enough to power approximately 5,400 homes. AEP's batteries are already up and running in Ohio, and others in Indiana and West Virginia will be operational by the end of the year. The utility also has a 4-megawatt battery set to be installed in Texas.

As Robotech said, this is a technology that was developed and working in 1980. Gulf & Western's Energy Development Associates division had developed large-scale zinc chloride flow battery systems for utility load leveling applications. They worked, and worked VERY well. We built a 5MW demonstration system for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and single modules were tested by one of the government research labs. We were also building electric vehicles using this technology capable of a range of 200 miles on a charge at between 45-50 mph, speeds of 70 mph on the highway, and took 5 hours to fully recharge. 

IN 1980 ! ! ! 


So what can we think when someone writes:

 The primary question -- what to do when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow -- really hasn't been answered yet.

It comes to my mind the possibility of probably bia$ed, or ignorant opinions of people like :

"We still can't store the power," Jeff Terry, an assistant professor of physics at Illinois Institute of Technology, who splits his time between studying solar and nuclear power, said in a Design News interview last week. "Right now, it looks like nuclear is the power source that can take us through the next 400 years. Solar and wind still have huge problems."

------ QUOTE    NOVEMBER 16, 2008 The WallStreet Journal


http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122661019700825653.html

It's far too early to tell which battery manufacturer will win out at the large scale -- and another big entrant is about to complicate the picture even further. In late October, Intel Capital, the venture arm of the chip-manufacturing giant, put its money behind yet another player in the market. Intel backed Beijing-based Net Power Holdings Ltd., which is developing its own version of the flow battery, potentially with a greater cost advantage, given the ability to capitalize on more inexpensive Chinese manufacturing capacity.  ---- UNQUOTE

jmiller
User Rank
Platinum
Bio-fuel inefficienscies
jmiller   9/5/2011 11:14:57 PM
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I've often read comments regarding biofuels inefficiencies.  Is anyone able to supply data to the discussion.  I live in the midwest and know of several biofuel facilities.  One of the largest issues I have with the situation is the way we have subsidies to raise the price of the input and then we have higher input prices which make the biofuels inefficient.  I would love for someone to put together a good summary of what the ral costs are for discussion.

jmiller
User Rank
Platinum
Biofuels--storing the inputs
jmiller   9/5/2011 11:20:05 PM
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I think one of the intersting facts of biofuels is that it does not necessarily need to be produced until it is needed.  Wind has to be produced when it is blowing.  Solar power has to be generated when the sun is shining.  But biofuel energy can be stored before it is broken down, and only produced when it is needed.  This has to be something that can be advantageous.  However, one of the concerns about biofuels is how to store all of the corn/sugar/switchgrass/soybeans. 

Fortunately, a significant amount of these same commodities are currently stored by the American farmer but it when you start to look at the output being an energy source that needs to be reliably supplied...Can the system be set up in a way that it will work?

Master of None
User Rank
Iron
Re: Biofuels--storing the inputs
Master of None   9/6/2011 1:02:06 PM
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It's 1997 and I'm sitting in the passenger seat of diesel car that sounds and performs remarkably like a gasoline engine, careening through the hills of a seashore town in Denmark when we come upon a few very large modern wind generators.

My engineer driver responds to my comment about the inability to well utilize the sporatic or cyclical delivery of the energy with a two word comment.

District Heating.

Nearby were two very large insulated water tanks. They have fuel powered heaters, but they only kick in when the power supplied by the wind farm is insufficient to maintain the minimum temperatures in the tanks.

The large volumes have tremendous thermal capacity. The buildings and homes in the small town recieve their hot water and heat from this system via suitably heat exchangers.

While we are still pounding away at trying to solve the wind utilization on a macro level, we miss taking advantage of oportunities on the micro level which can be learned from folks who have been using wind to perform work for a very long time.

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