Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Energy-banking is an idea whose time must come

Slowly but surely, the science/technology of energy-banking left the realm of pipe dream and made its way into the real-life land of pipeline.
Energy-banking, stowing power away to be used a later day, is an idea whose time very much has come. In fact, according to a recent newspaper item (the [Vancouver] Columbian, "Northwest energy storage concepts explored," 2/5/2012): "… a group of researchers led by the Richland-based Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Bonneville Power Administration are exploring whether that idea can be" restyled into our own Pacific Northwest version of the "natural gas storage facilities that are common across the country." Study participants estimate they'll finish their work later this year.
The idea is to put excess energy in the "bank" -- sock it away "in the form of compressed air and water in the Northwest’s expansive, porous underground basalt formations." It is very important to keep the research ball rolling because our Northwest power grid is under a great deal of pressure. Notes the newspaper item: "Excess energy has been a problem in the past. Just last year, unusually high flows in the Columbia River Basin put the region’s hydroelectric dams at maximum capacity."
Enter the Legislature. Just recently the House Technology, Energy & Communications Committee conducted a fact-finding work session on energy-storage issues. The committee has already passed to the House Rules Committee an energy-storage bill, House Bill 2198, which is prime-sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Morris. The measure directs that electric utilities must do an assessment of energy-storage systems in the integrated resource plan that already must be done by the utilities. Energy-banking backers emphasize that energy-storage has huge potential, especially as it relates to renewable portfolio standards requirements.
What's more, federal Energy Secretary Steven Chu maintained in a February 2010 statement: "Without technological breakthroughs in efficient, large-scale energy storage, it will be difficult to rely on intermittent renewables for much more than 20 to 30 percent of our electricity."
A good example of the "intermittent renewables" to which the secretary refers would be a wind farm that generates power only when it’s windy. It's very difficult to count on these energy sources for consistent power, unlike a natural-gas plant.