Pump storage … the industrial wind side show’s latest prop.

A November 7 article in the State Journal (West Virginia) is titled “Wind Power and Pumped Hydro Storage: A Natural Pair.”  What may seem very promising on the surface requires a bit of understanding, so before I comment, I’d like to provide this video of the Bath County Virginia pump storage facility for your review.

Impressive, don’t you think?  On-demand electricity from water power.  Ready to take care of the peak demand times as an “on call” resource to supplement fossil or nuclear stations.

(Full disclosure – I worked for a company which manufactures the major components for hydroelectric dams, including major pump storage systems.  I’m a huge fan of pump storage when used in the right application … supporting true electricity generators.)

Anyway, one thing the video mentioned that might have caught your ear was the fact that the water falling some 1,000 feet to generate electricity must be moved back up 1,000 feet to “reload” the upper reservoir.  The turbines which generated electricity as the water fell are reversed, now requiring electricity to turn the turbines into pumps.  This electricity must obviously come from something other than the pump storage facility.  The wind?

The article would like you to believe that.  The article quotes Mr. Matthew Shapiro of Gridflex, the Idaho company which is considering building a pump storage facility near the Mt. Storm wind facility in West Virginia, as saying, “So with that model (which pairs wind and pumped storage) we can compete directly against (natural gas combined cycle) as a product — and then also have all of the environmental benefits of it being wind versus a gas project.”  Really???  No natural gas support?  Just pump storage and wind turbines?

Nonsense!  This suggestion is beyond ludicrous and horribly misleading.  I can only assume Mr. Shapiro was misquoted in the article or I misunderstood his statement.  Would he have us believe that the combination of an industrial wind facility and a pump storage facility would only feed electricity into the grid and not require use of any of the electricity generated by natural gas or other fossil fuel?  Just curious, but what mysterious force comes into play when no wind blows … by what miracle does the water drift back uphill?

Pump storage facilities have worked for years in tandem with large coal and nuclear generating stations.  Large coal and nuclear station production is not easily modified to meet peak demand.  Pump storage has proven an effective partner over many years assisting these reliable generators to meet customer’s needs.

Maybe Mr. Shapiro really meant to say that pump storage and natural gas generators can assist industrial wind’s pitiful and unreliable performance.  But then you must ask why … why do we bother?  Why do we keep pretending that, with just a few more taxpayer dollars, a little more time, a few more regulations inhibiting competition and a few more quotas demanding its use, the inefficient, unreliable and heavily subsidized industrial wind profit centers have a place in our energy future?  Why do we continue to spend fortunes we don’t have on a product which gives back so little?

If Mr. Shapiro would like to build a pump storage facility to augment the existing grid, all power to him.  Mr. Shapiro did mention that “one incentive for a utility is that pumped storage counts toward the state’s requirement that utilities must get 10 percent of their electricity from alternative and renewable energy sources by 2015.”  But couldn’t he do that without wrapping the wind albatross around his neck?  Maybe he needs the poor performing contraptions to justify his entry?  I don’t know.

To me, any suggestion that that combining wind and pump storage will reduce fossil fuel usage is simply silly.  Pump storage has a proven role in the network of real, on-demand electricity generation supporting coal and nuclear.  Coming on line at peak demand is a means of helping fossil plants run more efficiently, so it seems to me that pump storage is already doing it’s part to reduce emissions.

Industrial wind, on the other hand, has proven to be a parasite, requiring prop after prop to keep it on life support.  And after all the thousands of turbines filling our landscape and emptying our bank accounts, there is no proof that one coal plant has been shut down as a direct result of industrial wind.

And sadly, rather than fund the research and development of serious future energy sources to replace fossil fuels, our leaders instead divert our valuable financial resources to the developer’s pockets.

I am a fan of pump storage in its role to support tried and true energy generators.  But I’m afraid all Mr. Shapiro is planning to bring to Mt. Storm is a crutch.

(Courtesy of Windtoons)

For a better understanding of industrial wind I suggest you take the time to read these two earlier posts:  A Conversation with Jon Boone – Toward a Better Understanding of Industrial Wind Technology and A Conversation with Jon Boone – Industrial Wind and the Environment

We also ask that you review the many links and other commentary provided here.

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11 Responses to Pump storage … the industrial wind side show’s latest prop.

  1. For most of the sites we’ve modeled, the wind-pumped storage combination to produce an intermediate-capacity equivalent product does require 10-20% non-wind input to supplement what the wind is doing. That 10-20% could come from baseload resources, helping to maintain a more efficient load factor for them in the middle of the night. And that portion, of course, doesn’t count as renewable. To the other point, the pumped storage proposition isn’t dependent on wind. But renewable energy integration is a key driver of new variability on the grid, and thus new interest in storage.

  2. jon Boone says:

    Timely and accurate commentary. Given the gusty nature of the wind, pumped storage is not an effective “battery” to regulate wind volatility. Pumped storage generally can’t respond fast enough to accommodate rapid changes in wind output, which, in the best of circumstances, imposes substantial inefficiencies on the storage operation. As is stated here, ancillary hydro systems work most efficiently with genuine capacity generation like coal or nuclear. Pairing wind with hydro in the hope the tandem will replace fossil fuels is not strategically possible, as the situation in the Pacific Northwest dramatically demonstrates. Even as a tactical stopgap, a la Gridflex, pumped storage will not put much of a dent in the overall reliance on the region’s use of fossil fuel.

    Any battery system used to regulate wind would be much better put to use regulating real capacity production. The Gridflex proposal is yet another huctsterish means of securing income production through tax avoidance–and not for contributing to a more viable, more environmentally sound way of producing electricity.

    • 1. Pumped storage can easily ramp up and down quickly enough to handle the variations of multi-megawatt windfarms. The ramp rates of large windfarms are on the order of minutes, not seconds. Even if they were in seconds, pumped storage – often on Automatic Generation Control and able to provide second-to-second frequency regulation – can respond. Actually, ramps in system load due to variations in demand are much more of an issue to deal with. And pumped storage excels in that arena. If so desired the plant can be designed for ultra-fast response, such as the Dinorwig plant in Wales that can go from standby to well over 1,000 MW in 12 seconds. Pumped storage can even respond as fast as batteries can.
      2. Agreed on your point that pumped storage plays a support and management role, optimizing and making more efficient grid operation, but is not intended to make a major dent in the region’s use of fossil fuel.
      3. The situation in the Pacific Northwest does, and does not,parallel the pumped storage option. It does in the sense that the Pacific NW hydro system has a lot of built-in flexibility to integrate wind. The limitations of the flexibility, as revealed last year during a very high water year, are related to the need to operate the dams in a way that will not kill fish. That limitation has little to do with closed-loop pumped storage plants.
      4. Pumped storage does not create any form of “tax avoidance”. As a technology, it has no subsidies, unlike fossil plants and wind plants alike.


      • Mr. Shapiro, you write: “Pumped storage does not create any form of “tax avoidance”. As a technology, it has no subsidies, unlike fossil plants and wind plants alike”

        Subsidies represents a monetary assistance granted by a government to a person or group in support an enterprise regarded as being in the public interest.

        This is a concerning statement, especially when PSC of WV granted AES Laurel Mountain to modify their project to use batteries. The article references AES and equates energy storage with pump or battery

        Gridflex Energy, LLC, (www.gridflexenergy.com ) on Oct 13, 2010, in filing their Preliminary Permit Application for the Mount Storm Pumped Storage Project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, offered the following statements:

        ii. Expected sources of financing
        “The expected sources of financing to conduct the studies described in this application are private investors, hydroelectric development firms whom the Applicant is exploring partnerships with, other renewable energy development firms that may benefit from the Project. ”

        “Additional funding may be obtained from the federal government through Department of Energy programs funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.” Page 14.

        As stated earlier, there appears to be another financial band aid, covering the ills of industrial wind.

        • ARRA funding is unlikely, as there is no current funding for pumped storage within current ARRA programs. The overwhelming likelihood is private funding. The main value I see in federal funding is that it – at least ostensibly – recognizes the need for long-term investment, whereas private funders tend to be short-term thinkers. Pumped storage projects require long-term thinkers.

          • AFA says:

            Pump Storage is not a new concept. Does any pump storage projects exist in the United States constructed from ‘overwhelming private funding’ sources similar to the proposed closed loop Mt. Storm project?

            • No. All projects in the U.S. were built prior to 1993, and all by rate-based utilities. This was because (a) the main driver of “first generation” U.S. pumped storage was nuclear and coal built by utilities in the 60’s and 70’s, (b) utilities felt safer in investing long-term, and (c) back then, there weren’t independent power producers. Then there was a big gap of time before the resurgence of interest in pumped storage. Fast-forward to the 2000’s, and there are 40 projects proposed nationwide, mostly by independents. Only the best will be developed.

  3. Jon Boone says:

    1. It is highly likely that AES will use any pumped storage system it claims will be paired with wind to mitigate its volatility as a means of reducing its tax liability. Indeed, this is the ONLY reason that AES is in the wind business in the first place. AES also–and very clearly–understands that wind and pumped storage will not reduce its coal marketshare. Indeed, in the PJM, it will likely increase that marketshare.

    2. Agreed that the wind/hydro situation in the Pacific Northwest is not parallel with wind/hydro in the mountains of West Virginia. In the former region, however, there are long term strategic reasons to pair wind with hydro, given the abundance of the hydro resource there. But as more wind penetrates grid systems in Washington and Oregon, hydro reserves have reached their limit, necessitating additional capacity generation. There are no savings or avoidance of CO2 emissions as a consequence. In the PJM, which generates less than one percent of its power from hydro, pumped storage can only be deployed for very limited tactical reasons, such as the PR campaign in West Virginia to make a gullible media believe that pumped hydro can transform wind into what it is not–a capacity source. It is unimaginable these days that Maryland or even Pennsylvania would permit new pumped storage facilities, given community and environmental concerns–and opposition. Only in West Virginia, where there is no local determination about power plant deployment, would a pumped storage unit of any size be allowed in our region.

    3.”But renewable energy integration is a key driver of new variability on the grid, and thus new interest in storage.” Put another way, wind variability is continually at work destabilizing the grid–from the supply side, of all things. The best way of “integrating” this “new variability” introduced by wind is not to introduce wind technology on any grid. Retrofitting modern power generators to enable wind flutter is incredibly backasswards, a truly retrograde use of engineering skill and otherwise serviceable technologies. From a consumer point of view, and from the best environmental perspective, pumped hydro should only be used to complement capacity generation.

    4. Since wind variation, which is a function of the cube of the wind speed along a narrow speed range, can change abruptly in seconds, or plod along for minutes in a skittering fashion, or zoom from nearly zero to 90% of its rated capacity in less than a half hour (or vice versa), AGC must always be ready to regulate it. Wind variability, however, is in addition to demand flux, and is typically much more intense. The small amount of wind flutter imposed by the AES wind plant could easily be absorbed by the PJM’s existing regulatory reserves, without the need for any ancillary pumped storage system. Although I’ve read about ultra fast pumped storage systems, I’ve not seen any realworld, realtime measurements for their performance vis a vis wind-following applications. And I doubt I ever will, given the proprietary confidentiality surrounding wind performance data. Talk is cheap, particularly from those in sales.

  4. frankohara says:

    For industrial wind, pump storage remains another financial crutch. If industrial wind did not have a basket of tax goodies on the table in the form of U.S. Treasury grants, loans, and tax incentives industrial wind will die.

    Pump storage is needed most when the wind produces little; however, in nature wind is variable and intermittent. Wind volatility is troublesome during the summer months when energy demand is at its greatest. The value of pump storage offers little, unless wind exceeds transmission load and supplemental prices are profitable. Pump storage is more suitable for coal and nuclear, not industrial wind.

    The suggested $600 – $800 million price tag for a pump storage project to support industrial wind becomes an unnecessary expensive silver bullet. It does little to aid in the efficient integration of industrial wind from an economic standpoint. Pump storage is an expensive mechanism. Pump storage and wind does little to increases energy security. Could it be that pump storage is trying to ride the green coat tails of industrial wind market? Could it be an energy market disguise, joining join sellers and renewable energy credit buyers? Let us be honest, pump storage and industrial wind represents another silver bullet idea of extracting additional funding from the Department of Energy programs.

  5. Tauna says:

    Nice article and accompanying comments. I’m from Idaho. Back in January of this year, I actually tangled with Mr. Shapiro over this very issue on the Idaho Statesman (our capital’s newspaper) website. He actually spewed that “wind isn’t that much more expensive than fossil sources, particularly when you take greenhouse gases into account.” I said “I guess it depends from which side of the fence you’re looking at it from — If you’re a developer there is no concern for cost because it is someone else’s money.” I agree with Mr. O’Hara — sounds like pumped storage is riding on the green coattails of the industrial wind market.

  6. Pingback: “California’s drought disaster is real” | Allegheny Treasures

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