Storage has potential, but it is no miracle cure

Renewables-supporting policymakers have understandably been attracted by the growing potential of storage systems as the various technologies improve and their costs fall.

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On the surface, it looks like the ideal solution to levelling out the variability of wind-power generation, ensuring there is power in reserve when the wind isn’t blowing.

But, as our economics editor David Milborrow points out, the facts of the matter are rather more complicated. The storage system that can compensate for several consecutive days of low wind, which occur even in regions with the strongest wind resources, remains so far in the future as to be hardly worth considering.

Storage, especially in the form of rapidly responding batteries, has a growing role to play in areas such as frequency response and constraint management, voltage control and system restoration. But battery costs remain too high and their capacity too low to meet the higher expectations placed on them.  

It is tempting to see a parallel with the fossil-fuel industry’s enthusiasm for carbon capture and storage (CCS). However, the "beautiful clean coal" trumpeted by the US president looks like even more of a chimera.

The Kemper plant in Mississippi, the most expensive fossil-fuel power plant in US history at $7.5 billion, was held up as the gamechanger for coal-fired generation — "the cleanest coal plant in the world", according to Tom Fanning, CEO of its owner, Southern Energy, when work started in 2011.

Kemper never came remotely close to achieving what the firm claimed it would be capable of. Maintenance downtime meant it was offline more than half the time, as costs rocketed. In June last year it was converted into an exclusively gas-fired unit.

Packaging wind power with storage still clearly has some way to go. But it is making far better progress than CCS.

Celebrating excellence

The time is ripe to recognise and reward the technological progress, achievements and sheer hard work of the global wind industry, which is why we are launching the Windpower Monthly Awards 2018.

Our aim is to showcase the companies — from OEMs and component makers to developers and service providers — that are making the most important contributions to the continued growth and cost competitiveness of wind power. We hope to reward not only the industry’s big and well-established names, but also the smaller companies and newcomers.

Click here to go to the Windpower Monthly Awards page.

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