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Gone with the wind

By LEE HEBERT

Publication: The Day

Published January 13. 2013 4:00AM

Without storage technology, wind and solar power are a waste

The guest editorial from the Los Angles Times, "Breath of GOP stale air" published by The Day Dec. 28 claimed that the government should continue to subsidize wind farms owing to their powerful public benefit. Wind farms are neither a powerful public benefit nor even a public benefit because their output is intermittent and typically occurs during the hours when energy is unneeded - the period during off-peak use of electricity. Wind farms are just a waste of money without energy storage simultaneously installed.

In 2010, former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law making energy storage mandatory. This legislation recognized that if California invested more in solar and wind without energy storage, the state would never meet its 2020 clean energy goals.

I recommend that your readers conduct a Google search for any state or country using the key words "(state/country) energy storage." Searchers will read how energy storage is the new renewable energy in many places, but not Connecticut. Our public officials and Connecticut's energy committees still haven't figured this one out, though I have tried for seven years to educate them.

The technology is well understood. Wind farms and solar installations need energy storage for increased effectiveness. While California is planning utility-scale storage, the best solution is to divide the task into residential-sized battery systems, which can use off-the-shelf technology.

Additionally, with an attractive "Time of Use Rate" from Connecticut utilities, homeowners could charge the batteries in an energy storage system, paying for lower-cost "off peak" electricity and using it during "peak" hours. Such systems also provide the homeowner with an automatic, fuel-less source of backup power during power outages. California has identified energy storage as a "permanent load shifting technology" reliable for everyday use, exactly when and where you need it.

An Internet search for "Today's outlook CAISO.COM" leads to the Independent Service Operator's (ISO) website for Northern California. The site displays a 24-hour graph of the available capacity and the actual load on the grid. Every square is 1,000 Million Watt hours. This is the equivalent of two (500 MWh) large fossil fuel power plants or a nuclear reactor like Millstone. All of the capacity available between the top curve and the lower curve is energy produced and not being used, in other words, energy going to waste. The downward slope in the middle of the day is solar energy reducing the load demand, but because utilities cannot shut down the power plants and then ramp them back up in less than a month, the net effect from solar is just more wasted surplus capacity. The missing component is energy storage.

Oddly enough, because federal and state energy agencies failed to consider energy storage to minimize waste, Connecticut can still become a national clean energy leader by promoting energy storage first before promoting solar and wind energy. Without a system in place to store the renewable energy produced, it's all just gone with the wind.

Lee Hebert, an energy consultant, lives in Scotland and is president of Mr. Electricity Energy Storage Systems.

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