One of the most ambitious high-voltage transmission system and utility-scale energy storage projects in history is happening in the American West. Designed by Duke American Transmission in a partnership with Pathfinder Renewable Wind Energy, Magnum Energy, and Dresser-Rand, the massive plan was recently announced. As I have discussed in a previous blog, the utility-scale wind generation projects in progress across the High Plains and the Midwest are epic, to say the least. Transporting this energy to major population centers such as Los Angeles represents major challenges and huge transmission system investments. The intermittency of the wind resource needs to be managed, as well. That is why this proposal represents some very creative thinking and engineering.
Driving cross-country from San Francisco to Northern Wisconsin on I-80, I began to better understand the massive geographical challenges that transmission utility planners and operators face. The idea of moving twice the power that the Hoover Dam in Nevada produces from Chugwater, outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Southern California includes building high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission lines across mountain passes up to 11,000 feet in Wyoming, and slightly lower passes in Nevada and California. These lines will take years to fund and build, creating significant opportunities for major suppliers like ABB, which recently announced new 1,100 kV HVDC transmission system capabilities.
The other really striking part of this announcement is the grid-scale storage project, which proposes to excavate salt caverns in central Utah and use them to store the wind energy as huge volumes of compressed air, serving as a massive battery, larger than any storage system ever built. Compressed air would be pumped into these caverns at night, when wind power generation is peaking, and discharged during the day during periods of higher demand.
The proposal is currently going through what may be endless approval processes at the state and federal levels, but a decision could come as soon as 2015. In many ways, this new and novel proposal reminds me of the Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) Helms pumped storage solution that has been operating since 1984, storing Diablo Canyon’s nuclear output at night by pumping water up into a lake and then discharging it through turbines for peak generation. The Duke project could be an epic feat of American power engineering to rival Hoover Dam itself.
Tags: High Voltage DC Transmission, Renewable Energy, Smart Utilities Program, Transmission & Distribution, Utility Innovations
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