Sun, wind, algae: Future data-center power sources?

Researchers and policymakers gathered at E3 2008 to share progress in the development of renewable energy sources including wind, solar and biofuels

"All of us should be very committed to not standing still, even with these economic challenges. The jurisdictions that stand still, that stand in the middle of the road, are going to get run over when we inevitably come out of this. Those who don't invest in education, training and skills development are not going to be able to compete with other economies," Doer said. "We have to continue to make the argument that the costs of doing nothing are much greater than anybody has ever anticipated."

On the topic of wind, attorney William Holmes discussed how the unpredictability and intermittent nature of wind makes it hard to incorporate into utilities' transmission grids. Wind energy cannot be dispatched to meet load in the way that traditional fossil fuel sources can, since wind energy typically is consumed as soon as it's produced, said Holmes, who leads the energy and telecommunications practice group at law firm Stoel Rives.

"Wind is either blowing or it's not," Holmes said. "If it blows at an inconvenient time or it blows when it's not expected, that result has to be managed into the system."

Other issues include: upgrading transmission lines to deliver wind energy from where it's produced to where the energy is needed; system storage and exchange limitations; lack of dynamic scheduling capabilities; and the high costs of interconnection facilities and transmission upgrades, Holmes said.

One company making strides in the area of wind storage is Xcel Energy, an electricity and natural gas company that operates in eight Western and Midwestern US states.

Xcel this month completed installation of a 1-megawatt battery in Luverne, Minn., that's designed to allow it to store wind energy and move it to the electricity grid when needed, said John Bryan, who manages the Minneapolis company's Utility Innovations program.

Xcel's wind-to-battery energy storage project uses a sodium-sulfur battery from NGK Insulators and represents the first US application of the battery as a direct wind energy storage device. With 20 50-kilowatt battery modules, the batteries will be able to store about 7.2 megawatt-hours of electricity. When the wind blows, the batteries will be charged, and when the wind calms down, the batteries will supplement the power flow, according to Xcel.

"The variability of wind during the day costs a ton of money. If you can actually match your forecasts by dispatching wind, you can save wear and tear on power plants" and save on contracts pricing, Bryan said. "Storage [of wind energy] should be able to flatten the cost curve."

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