In recent years wind farms, with huge turbines generating electricity out of the movement of the air, have popped up all over the world. Some people have seen them as one of the best hopes for weening the world off fossil fuels and tackling the challenges of global warming. But up until now they have all suffered from one major problem – what do you do when it isn’t windy?
Its a major problem, because when the levels of wind are low other power stations need to kick in to take up the slack. This means that wind power could not replace traditional power stations, only supplement them. And when the traditional power stations have to constantly increase and decrease their production they lose efficiency, further reducing the benefits to be gained by wind power.
But a now new project in Texas, USA, run by Duke Energy and a local start-up called Xtreme Power, may have provided a solution. They have built the biggest and fastest battery in the world, capable of storing 36 megawatts of wind power and feeding it into the grid in just 15 minuted if needed. This new technology would allow wind farms to generate excess power when its windy, and simply store it in batteries until such time as it is needed. Not only does this make wind power generation an much more viable option commercially, it could also improve the overall efficiency of national electricity grids, by making them more responsive to spikes in demand. Gas power plants take 15 minutes to increase their input to the grid if there is a spike in demand, whereas a battery can do it instantly.
“There are storage projects all over the country, and 2013 is the year for all of these to come online and start working,” Mike Gravely of the California Energy Commission told New Scientist.