Energy storage: Is Gorona del Viento working?


August 5, 2016

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Is Gorona del Viento working or not?

This month the project, which combines Enercon wind turbines with a pumped hydro storage plant on El Hierro, in the Canary Islands, proudly announced a new record in keeping the entire island running for 55 hours on renewables.

Sounds like a real feather in the cap for clean energy advocates. But not everyone is convinced. A detailed analysis of Gorona del Viento’s operations to date, on the influential Energy Matters blog, concludes the project is a flop.

So far, according to author Roger Andrews, Gorona del Viento has clearly failed to supply all the island’s energy needs, as originally intended, or even 68.4% of electricity demand, as estimated in engineering studies.

In fact, Andrews concludes, it is possible the project will never achieve these objectives because both the wind farm and the pumped hydro reserve are undersized. This “further suggests that replacing fossil fuels with intermittent renewables elsewhere in the world could be a lot more difficult than the proponents of renewable energy are prepared to admit,” he says.

That is a worry for wind because there is a sense the industry has always viewed energy storage as an ace up the sleeve that could be played whenever the issue of production intermittency became too obvious.

So far, things have been fine. Existing pumped hydro reserves, owned by third parties, have helped wind achieve high penetration levels in a number of European markets.

Elsewhere, wind farm operators have become masters at matching actual production to forecasts, both by getting cannier at forecasting and through the judicious use of curtailment.

But there are signs the time could be right for the wind industry to play its ace. In the US, for example, lawmakers are pushing to give energy storage the same kind of investment tax credit that wind benefits from. That could make it more attractive for wind developers to add storage to their plants.

At the same time, a recent analysis claims the US only has 1% of the storage it needs to run entirely off renewables.

That means there is plenty of room for growth if energy storage really is the cure for wind power’s intermittency ills. And it’s that ‘if’ that makes it so important to get to the bottom of the Gorona del Viento affair.

So far the council-owned company running the project has refused to answer queries after issuing its 55-hour claim. Battery firms queried on the matter, meanwhile, have shrugged it off with an “it wouldn’t happen with us” reply.

That simply won’t do at this stage of the game. If storage isn’t quite the neat answer that everyone thinks it is, then the wind industry needs to know, fast. This is not just because it could save a lot of embarrassment over failed projects, but also because the kind of deep engineering know-how that many wind companies have could be crucial in solving the problem.

For a long time, the wind industry has seen storage as someone else’s domain. Something the solar or automotive guys were working on, perhaps. But if Gorona del Viento really isn’t working, then the wind industry needs to get involved — and get to the heart of what’s going wrong.

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