Monday, July 27, 2009

The Fickle Wind

Energy Storage is a Key Issue for Wind Power

Ebb and flow of wind power stress NW power grid

Yakima Herald-Republic
YAKIMA, Wash. —

In the space of one hour last month, electricity generated at wind farms in the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge shot up by 1,000 megawatts - enough to power some 680,000 homes. Less than an hour later, it plummeted almost as much.

Sitting in front of 10 computer screens in a fifth-floor room of the federal Bonneville Power Administration headquarters in Portland, Kim Randolph had to react quickly.

Working from a keyboard, she diverted millions of gallons of water away from massive turbines spinning in Columbia River dams and sent it around the dams.

The 17-year veteran power operations specialist remembers how fast she needed to work as a wind storm caused generation to peak and fall three times over eight hours.
"You have to get it in hand and get it in hand very quickly," she said.

Getting it in hand is a balancing act. It means balancing the power generated by 31 dams, a nuclear power plant and now wind farms in order to send a stable flow of power into the BPA's 15,238-mile grid across the Pacific Northwest.

It also means balancing the grid's needs against those of fish and commercial river traffic on the Columbia River.

Getting power from wind, which can vary greatly, is complicating that balancing act.
In coping with the variations, the BPA has at times adjusted flows through dams at rates that exceeded guidelines established to protect fish.

"It is stressful. You have the threat of fish issues on one hand you are trying to prevent, and at the same time you're trying to meet load," she said.

The events of June 4 and 5 highlight the challenge facing the agency, utilities and wind generators across the region as wind farms sprout at a dizzying pace, much faster than anyone had anticipated.

Balance of article: The Seattle Times

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