The state of Maine is cracking the market open for self-storing of renewable energy with a collaboration between a wind company and a thermal energy storage company. According to a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report the collaborative Highland Wind project proposed by local wind developer Independence Wind will offer any participating Maine household a $6,000 “wind for oil” grant to store energy at night as heat then use it during the day.
The benefit asserted is to cut Maine heating bills in half and show the way to a national model for how renewable power can cut dependence on oil. It can work in Maine as Maine doesn’t have the natural gas infrastructure built out leaving heating oil to heat 80% of the homes.
The offers will fund the purchase of an Electric Thermal Storage (ETS) “off-peak heating” unit from the North Dakota thermal energy storage company Steffes, which is partnering with Independence Wind to store the night time off-peak electricity production of the wind farm. Participants can still choose to spend the grant money on any renewable energy or efficiency investment as well.
A Steffes ETS unit can be an ideal match for wind to thermal power storage. They use lower cost off-peak electric power to heat dense ceramic bricks that are stored in a specially insulated cabinet. This heat is then available for use throughout the 24-hour day for home heating. Space-age insulation keeps the exterior from heating above 160 degrees F, quite hot enough to burn skin, but below ignition temperatures of most any home materials. Enough heat is stored inside correctly sized units to provide 24 hours of gradual warmth on demand. Both Central Maine Power and Bangor Hydro offer deeply discounted ETS rates for the delivery of this off-peak power, too.
Along with the cash for customers that are willing to store heat, Highland Wind will supply the wind electricity to Highland residents at a discounted cost which will be equivalent to about $1.15 per gallon of oil, well below the current $3.00 per gallon price in the area for heating oil. Highland’s 39 turbines will produce approximately 325 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year, which is equal to the combined production of all the hydro dams on the main stem of Maine’s Penobscot River and represents the amount of electricity used by about 44,000 Maine households.
One of the principals of Independence Wind is Angus King, a former Governor of Maine who’s pointed out ”Maine is one of the most oil dependent states in the country and a huge portion of this oil is used to heat homes. We want to demonstrate here that we can replace that oil –not a drop of which comes from within Maine, with locally produced wind power which can be supplied at a long-term predictable price. This is better for the environment and is an insurance policy against the constant rise in oil prices.”
The idea follows a smaller program started in 2008 on Vinalhaven Island of Maine, which installed its own 100% wind power and then discovered that they needed a way to store the extra power. That’s where the ‘distributed energy storage’ idea was started in the real world.
Distributed thermal storage looks like it will work where the conventional fuels are priced high enough and the wind power is priced low enough. The technology is a huge improvement on a box of bricks; Steffes is heating up electric coils surrounded by ceramic bricks in a sealed container. The ceramic bricks are thermal sinks. They soak up the heat slowly, and when air is flowed through, can release that heat, just as slowly, providing low-cost heating.
Resistance heating is expensive even at essentially 100% efficiency. But when paired up with an air source heat pump, the results can be impressive and much more competitive to natural gas.
The large market growth will come in the windy Midwest when the natural gas prices climb again or propane gets expensive. From Oklahoma to the Artic Circle wind is a large resource. Thermal storage can move and save heat from windy times to still periods, making the electric grid operator only a transporter, and take some of the pressure off grid operators to invest in other storage mediums. But for now, any heating oil burner with time priced electricity available must be entranced.
Customers are going to need a cooperating utility. Time priced electricity would be needed to get the maximum benefit back from distributed storage and power use. Steffes offers the heat storage devices in multiple sizes from room size to commercial units making lots of potential storage possible.
So far the competition is pretty light – but expect that to change as more wind producers, utilities and state regulators realize the value that storing heat can offer to those make renewable mandates payoff. Efforts are under way to promote hot water products and we can be sure that wind for summer cooling is also a major target.
Much to many folks surprise, wind can be made to work on the cheap – with only a box of sophisticated bricks and smart technology application.