Accommodating high levels of variable generation

Despite the current high level of interest, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory reported in January 2009 that only four types of energy storage had total installed capacities that exceeded 100 MW – sodium-sulfur batteries, pumped hydro storage, compressed air energy storage (CAES) and thermal energy storage (TES).

Sodium sulfur batteries are currently being applied in wind farm pilot projects and transitioning to commercial application.

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These are installations that building owners request and pay for now – at costs far below typical battery or utility side technologies.Additionally, there are potential benefits from energy storage other than operational stability or maximizing the k Wh of renewable resources.Because renewable sources like wind and solar may not be available on a consistent and predictable basis, the utility must construct and operate conventional power plants to supplement the renewable source when necessary.The US has about 1 trillion watts of power production capacity and, on average, only generates slightly more than half of that value.Introducing renewable capacity that will be available most of the time – but not always – may aggravate that condition even more since backup generation may be used even less of the time, devaluing both the investment in the renewable source and the supplemental conventional generation.

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