A plant that was to be commissioned in Oregon yesterday that combines solar power, wind power and massive batteries to store the energy generated there is the first utility-scale plant of its kind in North America.
The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility, which is rated to generate enough electricity to power a small city at maximum output, addresses a key challenge facing the utility industry.
Wind and solar are clean sources of power, but utilities have been forced to fill in gaps when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining with coal or natural gas.
At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries are to store up to 120 megawatt-hours of power generated by the 300 megawatt wind farms and 50 megawatt solar farm so it can be released to the electric grid on demand.
At maximum output, the facility would produce more than half of the power that was generated by Oregon’s last coal plant, which was demolished earlier this month.
On-site battery storage is not new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has soared in the US in due to tax credits and incentives, and the falling price of batteries.
However, the Wheatridge facility is the first in the US to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output.
The project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of being what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, an advocacy group for the clean power industry. “If the solar is chugging along and cloud cover comes over, the battery can kick in and make sure that the output is uninterrupted. As the sun goes down and the wind comes online, the battery can make sure that that’s very smooth so that it doesn’t, to the grid operator, look like anything unusual.”
The plant, which is in a remote expanse three hours east of Portland, is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a public utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100 percent by 2040 under an Oregon climate law passed last year.
NextEra, which developed the site and operates it, owns two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage.
“The mere fact that many other customers are looking at these types of facilities gives you a hint at what we think could be possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest. “Definitely customers want firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”
Many researchers and pilots are working on alternatives to lithium ion batteries, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and a longer duration would be more useful.
“There is no silver bullet. There’s no model or prototype that’s going to meet that entire need ... but wind and solar will certainly be in the mix,” said Kristen Sheeran, Portland General Electric’s director of sustainability strategy and resource planning. “This model can become a tool for decarbonization ... as the whole country is driving toward very ambitious climate reduction goals.”
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