Wind Power and Electric Power Storage

Michael Giberson

Some of the most common questions about wind power revolve around the role of energy storage in integrating wind power with the electric grid.

So begins a position piece, “Wind Power and Energy Storage,” issued by the American Wind Energy Association. And just as there are common questions, there are common answers. Just about everyone who has thought about it has concluded that a little bit of energy storage would go a long way in improving the value of the variable electric power produced by the wind. At least as long ago as 1909 an engineer writing in The Times of London observed that the usefulness of wind energy was enhanced by power storage.

So you might think the AWEA’s article on “Wind Power and Energy Storage” reports that the technologies are best friends forever? Not so. The next few sentences:

The reality is that, while several small-scale energy storage demonstration projects have been conducted, the U.S. was able to add over 8,500 MW of wind power to the grid in 2008 without adding any commercial-scale energy storage. Similarly, European countries like Denmark, Spain, Ireland, and Germany have successfully integrated very large amounts of wind energy without having to install new energy storage resources. In the U.S., numerous peer-reviewed studies have concluded that wind energy can provide 20% or more of our electricity without any need for energy storage.

The article explains that the existing flexibility of resources connected to the electric grid provides sufficient capability to accommodate significant amounts of variable wind power output without requiring new energy storage systems.  The AWEA acknowledges that energy storage would be “helpful,” but also that “many types of energy storage are poorly suited to help accommodate … wind energy” and that it is “often not cost-effective.”  Elsewhere, AWEA refers to the “storage bogeyman” and says it is a myth that wind power needs energy storage.

So it may not be too surprising that energy storage supporters feel a certain animosity toward the AWEA, even if they see their energy storage and wind power technologies as natural complements.