Wind Power and Transmission Capacity and Storage Are Complements (But They’re Also Kind of Substitutes …)

Lynne Kiesling

An article in today’s New York Times describes the difficulty of getting wind power to urban demand centers when transmission lines are congested:

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions.

The article then expands on the argument that the necessary solution is expanding transmission capacity, which is expensive and unpopular for a lot of NIMBY and other political economy reasons. There may be some justification for this argument. But the article fails to point out the true, underlying Achilles heel, which is energy storage. If we had more efficient and distributed energy storage, then we could store wind-generated power near the source when lines are congested, and store it near demand by transmitting it when lines are not congested. Distributed energy storage gets us a one-two punch here, because it simultaneously addresses the transmission congestion problem and the wind intermittency problem.

So don’t just jump to the conclusion that distributed wind generation => more transmission capacity. A better, more resilient approach is to combine transmission capacity and distributed storage. That’s why research on energy storage is so valuable.


2 thoughts on “Wind Power and Transmission Capacity and Storage Are Complements (But They’re Also Kind of Substitutes …)

  1. I wouldn’t regard this as an either/or scenario. We have a long way to go to get a large fraction of our electricity from renewable sources. Certainly both transmission and storage will play an important role. The author of this piece has written several fine pieces on energy storage:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/science/earth/15sola.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/11/business/11battery.html
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/16/business/16storage.html

    The point is we need both storage and transmission to get wind from the great plains and upper midwest to our big cities, but in the short term we might be able to get pretty far with just storage.

    A report on CAES and wind:
    http://www.princeton.edu/~ssuccar/caesReport.html

  2. NYT on capacity problems in our regional/national power distribution grids; do we regulate or deregulate?

    The New York Times has an interesting article that points out how the use of new wind and solar capacity

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