Light shines on a solar-wind-battery power plant

PORTLAND, Ore. — A renewable energy plant in Oregon that combines solar power, wind power and huge batteries to store the energy produced there was commissioned last week as a first plant of its type in North America.

The project, which will generate enough electricity to power a small town at peak output, addresses a major challenge facing the utility sector as the United States moves away from fossil fuels and increasingly turns to solar and wind farms for energy. Wind and solar are clean energy sources, but utilities have been forced to fill the gaps when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine with fossil fuels like coal or natural gas.

At the Oregon plant, massive lithium batteries will store up to 120 megawatt hours of electricity generated by the 300 megawatt wind farms and 50 megawatt solar farm so it can be returned to the power grid at Requirement. At peak power, the facility will produce more than half the electricity generated by Oregon’s last coal-fired plant, which was demolished earlier this month.

On-site battery storage is nothing new, and interest in solar-plus-battery projects in particular has exploded in the United States in recent years due to strong tax credits and incentives and declining battery prices. The Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Lexington, Oregon, however, is the first in the United States to combine integrated wind, solar and battery storage on such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate energy. continuous production without relying on fossil fuels. fuels to fill the gaps.

The project “is getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think is what’s capable with a fuel-based power plant,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of storage. of energy to the American Clean Power Association. , a clean energy industry advocacy group.

“If the sun is advancing and cloud cover is coming, the battery can start and ensure that the output is uninterrupted. When the sun goes down and the wind comes on, the battery can ensure that it is very soft so that it doesn’t look like anything unusual to the network operator.”

The plant located in a remote stretch three hours east of Portland is a partnership between NextEra Energy Resources and Portland General Electric, a utility required to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 under a an Oregon climate law passed last year, one of the most ambitious in the country.

PGE customers are also demanding green power – nearly a quarter of a million customers only receive renewable energy – and the Wheatridge project is “key to this decarbonization strategy,” said Kristen Sheeran, Director of Sustainable Development Strategy and Resource Planning for PGE.

Under this partnership, PGE owns one-third of the wind generation and purchases all the electricity from the facility for its renewable energy portfolio. NextEra, which developed and operates the site, owns two-thirds of the wind generation and all of the solar generation and storage.

“Just the fact that many other customers are considering these types of installations gives you an idea of ​​what we think is possible,” said David Lawlor, NextEra’s business development manager for the Pacific Northwest. “Customers definitely want a firmer generation, starting with the battery storage in the back.”

Large-scale energy storage is essential as the United States shifts to more variable energy sources like wind and solar, and Americans can expect to see similar projects across the country. as this trend accelerates. Models from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory show that the United States’ storage capacity could increase fivefold by 2050, but experts say even that won’t be enough to prevent hugely disruptive climate change.

Batteries aren’t the only solution the clean energy industry is trying. Pumped storage generates power by sending huge volumes of water down through turbines and others are experimenting with forcing water underground and holding it before releasing it to power the turbines.

But interest in batteries for clean energy storage has increased dramatically in recent years, as the cost of batteries drops and the technology itself improves, spurring interest in hybrid plants, according to the researchers. experts.

Generating capacity from hybrid power plants has increased 133% between 2020 and 2021 and at the end of last year there were nearly 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation connected to storage, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy, which is operated by the University of California.

The vast majority of these projects are solar with battery storage, largely due to tax credits, but ongoing projects include offshore wind plus battery, hydro plus battery and at least nine facilities like the one in Oregon that will combine solar, wind and storage. Projects underway between 2023 and 2025 include those in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois and Oregon, according to Berkeley Lab.

However, many researchers are working on alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, largely because their intrinsic chemistry limits them to around four hours of storage and longer would be more useful.

“There’s no silver bullet. There’s no blueprint or prototype that will meet all of this need…but wind and solar will definitely be there,” Sheeran said of EMP.

“This model can become a decarbonization tool across the West as the whole country moves towards very ambitious climate reduction targets.”

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