An ‘evolution’ in renewable energy

Article by Amanda Jasi

General Electric Renewable Energy

GENERAL Electric (GE), the American multinational conglomerate, is close to completing the world’s first commercial wind project with integrated power storage. Located in rural County Kerry, Ireland, the project could help the country to cope with rapidly increasing energy demand, and to achieve its renewable energy goals.

The wind project, named Tullahennel, consists of 13 wind turbines which together have a total capacity of 37 MW. Each turbine is integrated with a lithium ion battery, roughly the size of a small car, located at the base of the tower. Each battery can store up to 69 kWh of electricity, which can be fed into the grid as needed. This hybrid approach stabilises the power supply, enabling the systems to store excess electrons for energy use when demand is low, and reducing the need for fossil fuels when wind stops blowing.

Tullahennel is a crucial project for Ireland. The country’s energy demand is expected to increase by 15–36% over the next decade. A report by EirGrid, the Irish transmission grid manager and operator, said that the driving factor in this increase was the growth of data centres. The centres already consume 6% of Ireland’s electricity and now under a 15-year purchase-agreement all Tullahennel’s power will go to Microsoft Corp data centres.

In addition, this evolution in renewable energy could help Ireland achieve the Irish government’s mandate to generate 40% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Although Ireland ranks highly among EU countries in clean energy use, it still gets 9% of its energy from burning peat, which has adverse environmental impacts.

EirGrid has also benefitted Tullahennel through active encouragement. The authority has included storage as part of its official programme to expand renewable energy sources. It is one of the first markets to create a commercial incentive for using storage.

Tullahennel’s turbines recently went online, and the battery systems are in the final stages of testing on-demand injection of power into the grid. According to a project update from GE Renewable Energy (GERE), early tests were successful and show that the system is able to quickly adjust to grid demand and turbine power generation.

Tullahennel could also have impact beyond Ireland. GE expects that the ability to “effectively and affordably” generate, store and provide energy will be used as a model for projects all around the world.  

Amelie Wulff, hybrid solutions sales leader at GERE, said: “One big problem with renewables is variability and availability,” adding: “With a battery you have a place where the energy can go until the grid is capable and has capacity to absorb that energy.”

Juanita Ojeda, hybrids marketing leader at GERE, said: “There’s a lot of data that shows the cost of battery storage will continue to drop, and that will improve the case for integrated storage.” She continued, saying: “regulation is now starting to be in the right place to make projects viable.”

Steve Bravo, wind and hybrids project manager at GERE, said: “The storage industry is still figuring out what the most viable solution may be.” He added that “from a technical standpoint, this is a proof point of how to use and integrate storage directly into a turbine and see how it will perform.”

According to Bravo, researchers in GE labs in New York, US, and Bangalore, India have been working on practical grid-scale storage system since 2011. In 2014, GE tested batteries connected to wind turbines in California, US. And, in 2015, the company deployed another system at a three-turbine commercial project in Texas, US.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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