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Oct 27, 2019

Wilmoth: Batteries promise to transform electric power

By Adam Wilmoth

The Oklahoman | October 27, 2019

Utilities in Oklahoma and throughout the country have been adding wind and solar energy sources for many years, but improvements in utility-scale battery technology promises to revolutionize the renewable energy even further.

Western Farmers Electric Cooperative in July announced plans for a 200-megawatt battery system expected to be operational in 2023. The system is expected to be the first of its kind within the Southwest Power Pool, which manages the electric grid in Oklahoma and parts of 14 other states.

“With the prices of wind and solar energy lower than ever, we are now able to pair those with battery storage to make more affordable, renewable energy available to customers for more hours of the day — even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining,” Gary Roulet, the cooperative’s CEO, said in July.

The Oklahoma batteries are expected to provide power for up to four hours on a full charge.

Wind and solar have become an increasingly important part of the power mix, especially along the Great Plains. Over the past two weeks, the Southwest Power Pool has been smashing renewable energy utilization rates. The system on Oct. 17 carried a record 17.1 gigawatts of wind energy and at 2:14 a.m. on Oct. 9, renewable resources supplied a record 73.67% of the system’s energy needs.

The big problem with wind and solar power is that it’s not always windy and sunny. Utilities have addressed those challenges by pairing renewable energy with quickly adjustable natural gas-fired power plants. The expanded regional transmission organizations also have helped, as it’s usually windy or sunny somewhere in the 14-state region.

But batteries promise to provide the grid with even more flexibility, allowing utilities to generate power when they can and distribute that electricity when it’s needed.

In August, the country’s installed utility battery energy storage capacity topped 1 gigawatt, according to a report the U.S. Energy Information Administration released Friday.

That number expected to balloon to nearly 4 gigawatts by 2023 as planned projects come online in Oklahoma, Florida, New York, California, Nevada and Massachusetts.

“The trend of this capacity growth does not appear to be slowing, particularly in states such as Florida, New York and Oklahoma,” the EIA report stated.

The Oklahoma project will be operated by NextEra for Western Farmers. Besides the batteries, the Skeleton Creek project also includes new wind and solar generators.

“With this combined facility, we can optimize and maximize the amount of low-cost, emissions-free electricity we provide while helping Western Farmers diversify its power generation portfolio, reduce its dependence on fossil fuels and set a great example for others to follow,” NextEra CEO John said in July.

Read more here.