A 20-foot shipping container filled with batteries and parked at Energy Northwest's Nine Canyon Wind Project south of Kennewick may help make wind energy more practical.
The demonstration system, controlled by a computer server, stores a small amount of the wind farm energy when there is excess and releases it at times of peak power demand.
The system, developed by Powin Energy of Tualatin, Oregon, has shown promise in laboratory testing by the Bonneville Power Administration.
Energy Northwest likes the concept -- a portable, modular unit that is flexible enough to be used for multiple purposes simultaneously, said John Steigers, the agency's developer for the project.
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"It's pretty likely we'll see a system like this deployed widely," Steigers said.
But while industry officials generally agree that storage is valuable, there is a lack of information on how valuable it is and how its costs pencil out against its benefits, he said.
Initially, the modular system is being field tested to see how well it performs in storing wind energy. The wind often blows at night when people are sleeping and demand for electricity is low, causing nighttime-generated wind power to go unused.
BPA has contributed $240,000 to the project. It foresees the need for more energy storage systems over the next several years to help integrate renewable energy and better use excess wind energy produced during low-demand hours.
Such systems could help defer conventional solutions such as building more transmission lines, according to BPA.
For energy producers, it could provide a way to quickly reduce over-production, which can carry costly fines when BPA notifies them it has excess power for the grid.
It also could be used to help electric utilities better balance power supply and demand on a local level.
Officials plan to move the modular system to Richland in early 2014 to be connected to its First Street Substation.
Richland is interested in reducing electricity purchased for its customers at peak use time when the price is highest by storing lower-cost power until it is needed, said Bob Hammond, the city's energy services director. There's also a possibility that its large industrial customers could use such energy storage systems to save money.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory has developed a method to automatically control the battery's charge and discharge cycle so that it responds to real-time needs of the power system.
It also is developing a computer model that will use data from the wind farm and project how well the system would work if scaled up to include many battery units. It will evaluate a larger system's performance, reliability and durability in relation to the overall power system's needs.
The modular unit at the Nine Canyon Wind Project can store only a small portion of the wind farm's production, or enough power for about a dozen homes for four hours during peak power demand, according to Energy Northwest.
About 800 modular units would be needed to store all of the Nine Canyon Wind Project's production. But the system's value will be in having hundreds of the units spread throughout the region and coordinated, Steigers said.