Storing The Wind

December 6, 2007 | 2 Comments

Sometime my excitement just gets away from me. I sense that there is a turning point rushing at us. It’s the wind and now I can list two technologies that are quite similar and offer power generation a big, and I mean big increase from wind power.

With the wind being a fickle thing, blowing more, or less, all of the time, there is a strong need to catch the high winds or high output times for use when electrical demand is high when the wind is blowing slowly. We looked at grid management last week “Another Huge Wind Power Improvement,” that covered the research into how wind parks can be tied together to form large base load resources. Now have a look at two ways to store wind’s energy for use later.

First up is the Iowa Stored Energy Park that is compressing air with the energy from windmills into underground storage such as geologic structures that can hold huge amounts if air. When released the air is heated to add even more energy and directed through turbines to generate electricity. The park site study work is under way with a projected startup in 2011. It’s quite a large project with support from utilities in Iowa, Minnesota and the Dakotas. The U.S. Department of Energy is on board with some cash. This is a site that deserves a visit and a “hoorah!”

Another take on the compression concept is to put an air compressor in the windmill. A private company, General Compression, has reported that it’s secured funding to continue perhaps as far as installing a full unit. They too are proposing underground storage in geologic formations. When the General Compression system releases the air in a peak use case they may use the gathered energy over time of a 100MW wind farm and generate a short bursts of 300MW for a few hours. Here is where the boost comes in, when the compressed air reaches a gas turbine, its already compressed, so the turbine can be built with part of the compressor stage excluded reducing its manufacturing cost. So when the turbine is running the power it would have used to compress the incoming air is instead, going out to spin the generator. Neat, much more efficient and less expensive to build.

The difference between the systems is in just what the windmill is doing. In Iowa the windmill is generating electricity that motors use to compresses the air. At General Compression the windmill is directly compressing air. This saves a step and offers a more efficient design. Time and money will drive the engineering to design windmills topped with compressors. With company milestones set, the goal is to have saleable production in late 2010 or 2011.

For purists these storage solutions are not perfect. They still will need fueled when the compressed air is ignited. But these ideas and others offer a big gain in efficiency in a world that now looking for every watt of energy and molecule of fuel at the lowest possible cost. But keep in mind the heat energy used in a gas turbine need not be a fossil fuel. It could even be steam from geothermal released in to a pre-compressed turbine. This and the ongoing search for ways to use the waste heat suggest that electricity generation has solutions coming that take the worry out of a possible shortage and offer a lot of excess power to address the transportation sector.

I’m at huh . . . wow!


2 Comments so far

  1. Sodium Ascorbate : on October 26, 2010 5:09 AM

    we always use air compressors in spray painting and also in blowing off those hardened dust on our home-‘*

  2. Rain Jacket · on November 12, 2010 1:58 PM

    the air compressors that we use at home are the high powered ones, we also use it for cleaning *,*

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