As the first utility-scale plant of its sort in North America, a renewable energy facility in Oregon that combines solar power, wind power, and huge batteries to store the energy generated there formally launched on Wednesday.
The project, which at its peak capacity can produce enough electricity to power a small city, tackles a significant issue that the utility industry is currently confronting as the United States moves away from fossil fuels and increasingly relies on solar and wind farms for power. Although fossil fuels like coal or natural gas must be used to make the difference when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, wind and solar energy are pure energy sources.
Massive lithium batteries at the Oregon facility can store up to 120 megawatt-hours of energy, which can then be delivered to the electric grid when needed from the 300-megawatt wind farms and 50-megawatt solar farm. When operating at total capacity, the facility can generate more than half the electricity produced by Oregon’s final coal plant, which was destroyed earlier this month.
On-site battery storage is nothing new. In recent years, the U.S. has seen a tremendous interest in solar-plus-battery projects, mainly thanks to generous tax breaks and incentives and the declining cost of batteries. However, the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility in Lexington, Oregon, is the first of its kind in the United States to integrate the integrated wind, solar, and battery storage at such a large scale in one location, giving it even more flexibility to generate continuous output without relying on fossil fuels to fill in the gaps.
According to Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association, a trade association for the clean power sector, the project is “getting closer and closer to having something with a very stable output profile that we traditionally think of as what’s capable with a fuel-based generation power plant.”
“If the solar panel is working correctly and a cloud cover suddenly appears, the battery can take over and ensure that the production continues. The battery can ensure that the transition between the sun setting and the wind picking up speed is seamless so that it doesn’t appear strange to the grid operator.
By one of the most aggressive climate laws in the country, Oregon’s climate law, passed last year, requires Portland General Electric, a public utility, to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 and is located in a remote area three hours east of Portland. NextEra Energy Resources built the plant.
The Wheatridge project is “essential to that decarbonization agenda,” according to Kristen Sheeran, director of sustainability strategy and resource planning at PGE. Nearly a quarter million PGE customers only receive renewable energy.
According to the agreement, PGE owns one-third of the facility’s wind output and acquires the entire facility’s power for its renewable energy portfolio. Two-thirds of the wind output and all of the solar output and storage is owned by NextEra, the company that built the complex and runs it.
According to David Lawlor, NextEra’s director of business development for the Pacific Northwest, “The fact that many other clients are looking at these types of facilities gives you an indication of what we think could be achievable.” Customers demand firmer generations without a doubt, starting with the back battery storage.
Americans may anticipate similar national projects as the U.S. transitions to more variable power sources like wind and solar. Large-scale energy storage is essential in this transition. Models from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory suggest that the United States’ storage capacity may increase fivefold by 2050; experts assert that this won’t be sufficient to halt highly destructive climate change.
According to experts, as battery costs have decreased and technology has advanced, there has been a significant interest in using batteries for renewable energy storage, increasing the demand for hybrid plants.
According to the U.S., there were approximately 8,000 megawatts of wind or solar generation coupled with storage by the end of last year. Between 2020 and 2021, hybrid plant generating capacity climbed by 133%—Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory of the Department of Energy, run by the University of California.
Because of tax incentives, solar power with battery storage projects predominates. Still, there are plans for offshore wind plus battery, hydroelectric plus battery, and at least nine plants that will combine solar, wind, and storage, like the one in Oregon. According to Berkeley Lab, projects in Washington, California, Arizona, Idaho, Iowa, Illinois, and Oregon will be launched between 2023 and 2025.
The sustainable energy sector is experimenting with other alternatives in addition to batteries. Others are experimenting with pumping water underground and holding it there before releasing it to power turbines. Pumped storage provides power by sending massive volumes of water downwards through turbines.
However, as the cost of batteries has decreased and the technology has advanced, there has been a significant increase in interest in batteries for clean energy storage, according to experts, which has increased interest in hybrid plants.
However, many scientists and pilots are focusing on lithium-ion battery substitutes. A longer storage time would be more practical because their inherent chemistry restricts them to about four hours.
“There is no magic cure. There isn’t a model or prototype that can fill that need. However, wind and solar will undoubtedly be included, according to Sheeran from PGE.
“This model can be used as a decarbonization tool throughout the West as the entire nation works toward extremely ambitious climate reduction goals,”