Posting in Energy
Hydroelectricity from a gushing Columbia River overloads the grid, shutting down thousands of wind turbines. A government utility prioritizes hydro. Wind companies cry foul. Salmon get caught in the middle.
There can be too much of a good thing. A perfect storm of renewable energy has erupted in the Pacific Northwest. Environmental conditions are ripe for harnessing the energy of rushing water from springtime snowmelts and of winds gusting in their seasonal glory. The problem? The grid can only handle so much electricity at once.
Transmission utilities try to balance electric supply with demand to ensure reliable service and steady billing rates. In response to surging amounts of hydroelectricity, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), the federal agency overseeing transmission in the Northwest, has been cutting off incoming power from wind farms. The scenario exemplifies why energy storage is crucial for the growth of the renewable energy industry. Over the last month, BPA has been storing some power and exporting some of the surplus on the cheap, but at night (when demand is lower) they've ordered 35 wind farms to power down.
The wind companies aren't happy. On Monday, five of them filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, saying BPA has breached contracts and violated the Federal Power Act for its own financial interests.
It looks like in the typical week they are curtailing in the mid-20,000 megawatt hours. And to put that in perspective, that's enough power to power about half of the houses in Portland.
It will certainly harm our future in the Northwest for renewable energy development, but it could even have broader implications. If a monopoly utility can break utility contracts, it would be very hard to finance projects in a lot of places.
The shutdowns, according to BPA, have cut wind generation by 15 percent. In addition to wind, the utility is not currently taking in coal, natural gas or nuclear power. Those facilities, however, can conserve their fuel resources in the interim. When the wind blows and there's no turbine to catch it, it still blows. And it does blow for wind companies, which are losing profits, production-based government incentives, and possibly, investment prospects. They have calculated their damages in the millions.
To justify their decision, BPA points to fish—the region's threatened salmon and steelhead trout species. These fish face a slew of troubles in the Northwest, but onshore wind turbines? At the 31 dams that BPA manages, the rising water can either go through hydroelectric turbines or spill over the dam's edge, or spillway. The falling water, however, creates bubbles and increases dissolved gas levels in the river below (think white water). This can harm the fish over time, and in the name of protecting them, BPA is required to keep the amount of dissolved gas below certain levels.
But Pat Ford of Save Our Wild Salmon doesn't see salmon safety and wind turbines to be at odds. He finds BPA's excuse to not limit the influx of hydroelectricity faulty, and in an op-ed for the Seattle Times, writes:
Normal spill management includes biological monitoring so spill can be reduced should fish exhibit too-severe trauma symptoms. That's what "safe spill" means. Conversely, consider what befalls salmon that are not spilled. Most are piped into barges and trucks for artificial transport — a harmful and risky practice that must be reduced.
Spilling more water and denying wind power transmission are just two of the approaches to the overloaded grid problem floating around. Longer term solutions could be a more robust transmission infrastructure and better energy storage. Still others include sending more power to other areas or paying customers to consume more of their electricity at night.
What do you think BPA should do?
Related on SmartPlanet:
- A greener grid needs cheaper, better batteries
- A 'heat battery' for solar power storage
- BMW to use hydropower to manufacture Megacity electric car
Image: Wikipedia Commons
Jun 14, 2011
What is the possibility of using NH3 hydrolysis in cars to run on partial hydrogen and another fuel such as petrol ? Is there a benefit to increasing the burning efficiency & using less fossil fuel?
Producing ammonia, or hydrogen as others have recommended, during peak power periods instead of losing that energy could be viable methods of storing energy until it is needed. The tricky part will be resisting the short-term profit by selling all of the stuff produced immediately. They should use some of it to produce power and balance power needs with the variable nature of wind and hydro power, but they must build the needed long term storage so they can have months, if not years worth of the stuff stored for when there are droughts that limit the excess hydro power needed to produce it. Do we as a society have the discipline to save it for when we need it?
"Planning for a Transition to Green Ammonia Fuels in Jefferson County" The Jefferson County Public and Professional Energy Luncheon Program for 2011 returns to the consideration of ammonia fuels on a special Wednesday date with a presentation by Ted Hollinger, a pioneer in engineering and manufacturing internal combustion engines (ICEs) that run on alternative fuels including anhydrous (water-free) ammonia. Mr. Hollinger will present practical applications of his ICE power plants and discuss the green production of ammonia, a key alternative fuel. Green ammonia fuels were last discussed in October in connection with capture and storage of the wind and water energy excesses regularly experienced by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The timing of Mr. Hollinger's presentation could not be better because the BPA is presently in the middle of a particularly severe period of recurring energy excesses where, on an almost daily basis, natural water and wind energy supplies greatly exceed the loads able to absorb the energy. Lacking any way to store this energy, BPA has been ordering the shutdown of green energy turbines with an almost-daily loss of very valuable green energy supplies. The total green energy lost in the last four weeks is over 65 gigawatt-hours (GWh) - the energy equivalent of 65,000 barrels of oil worth approximately $6,500,000.
Solar and wind will never be major contributors to a nations power grid unless the storage issue is resolved. Large-scale affordable energy storage and dynamic power management between renewable and conventional sources are needed. We do not want to go down the road Scotland did. Taxpayers helped build them, but on the windiest days the owners of the windmills are paid to shut them off because the grid cannot handle their peak output.
Renewable ammonia was made for 80 years from hydroelectric in Norway. 30 million tons of product. Ammonia could be stored or moved to locations for use in internal combustion engines for peak shaving. Since there is no carbon, there is no CO2 or particulate emissions. The biggest cost is the electrolysis system for H2 production but systems are available with 10 year warranties. See http://www.nh3fuelassociation.org/
It's not dissolved oxygen that is the problem for fish, it's dissolved nitrogen from water over the spillway. It gives the fish the bends.
Both BPA and the wind farm community are at fault for this situation. Both have lacked forethought in how to deal with an overabundance of power generation. One or both should have considered how to store excessive supply. Perhaps a hydrogen processing plant would have been a good solution. Hydrogen is an up and coming star in the energy field and it has the advantage of being storable. Stop that linear thinking folks!
No one would sell off electricity immediately. The ability to store bulk ammonia to be used for peak electrical production would yield very high returns compared to intermittent contracts. All utility companies covet dispatchable prime power contracts, particularly if they are renewable, particulate and carbon free sources. Ammonia is stored in huge volumes in the U.S., typically produced year round but high consumption in spring. A good example is the Dakota Gasification which produces ammonia year round and pipeline the ammonia from NW North Dakota to Des Moines IA for large bulk storage. Volume management is part or the commodity business. Don't believe that Hydrogen is a good potential since it cannot be economically compressed, moved or stored.
Please review my previous post. NH3 is available in bulk tanks, rail-cars, super tankers and pipelines already. Fuel can be stored for peak shaving or prime power. Storage and delivery infrastructure of pipelines, barges, rail and truck already exists (3,000+ miles of pipeline in the US; retail outlets exist in practically every state, (800 outlets in Iowa alone)
There's usually a big "fish vs farms" fight over water every year in Northern California. I guess you can worry about long term effects when there's an adequate supply of water. I wonder if they can mitigate the nitrogen content of the water going over the spillway with baffles.
How long does anybody expect the huge runoff to continue? A couple of months at most? And how often do these huge runoff years occur? In the overall scheme of things this is a non-issue. The reason it is a big issue for the wind farms is because they have to service their debt every month. But if this one-time event puts them out of business, then they have a very poor business model. The real planning issue will come when there are enough wind farms that they have shut down during normal runoff years. Unfortunately, avoiding this issue will require planning beyond the wind farms into regional power distribution. So far, this has been lacking. This is what the wind farms should be screaming about.
The nitrogen gets dissolved in the whitewater that forms at the bottom of the spillways. It would be incredibly expensive to redesign the spillways so they didn't create that whitewater. Considering the volumes of water we're talking about on the Columbia River it's probably not practical to do that.