How Xtreme Power Tackles Grid Level Energy Storage

For six years, energy storage and power management company Xtreme Power and wind energy company First Wind have partnered to overcome challenges associated with the power grid. That’s according to panelists at Cleantech Forum San Francisco in March.

In the “When the Holy Grail is Too Expensive: How Will Energy Storage Become Affordable?” panel, Carlos Coe, founder and chairman of Xtreme, said his company, which focuses on large-scale power and energy storage, initially sought a project in which it could help solve grid problems such as blackouts. Xtreme sought to develop power systems that change a variable power source like renewable energy into firm, dispatchable power and address the fundamental fragility of the grid itself for trip events, Coe said. And Hawaii was an intriguing market for these particular problems.

Meanwhile, First Wind, a midsize private equity-funded wind generation company developing projects in Utah and Hawaii was looking for smaller market opportunities.

The two first came together in 2006 for a project on Maui that generated almost 30 MW and nearly 10% of the energy consumed by Maui.

In so doing, Tom Siegel, vice president of transmission at First Wind, said, “We discovered how hard it was to integrate that large of a project into that small of a grid.”

When First Wind expressed interest in further projects on Maui and other Hawaiian islands, Hawaiian Electric Company said it was important to consider storage as a way of easing variable wind resources.

Coe said the pilot project taught them a lot about the very complicated requirements of a wind farm. First Wind had placed the project on a weak area of the grid and learned that you can put renewables in challenging places on the grid successfully without risk. And, from that experience, the two successfully deployed a much larger project, the 30 MW Kahuku Wind project on Oahu, which celebrated its first anniversary in March.

Xtreme Power said power management and energy storage proved to be a major asset to the wind farm. Since March 2011, the 15 MW digital power management and energy storage system operating in Kahuku Wind has cumulatively charged and discharged more than 1.9 GWh of energy, which is equivalent to the amount of energy consumed by approximately 190 average homes for an entire year.

Xtreme Power said First Wind selected it for its ability to smooth output from Kahuku Wind to within plus or minus 1 MW per minute, absorbing or releasing power as needed to deliver a steady supply of clean power to the Hawaiian Electric Company’s electrical grid. In one instance, a voltage loss along the transmission line to which Kahuku Wind is interconnected, caused an instantaneous loss of approximately 14 MW of power; within milliseconds, the DPR responded with enough power to make up for this loss and help stabilize the grid, Xtreme Power said.

In part due to the success of the Kahuku project, a new 10 MW Dynamic Power Resource is under construction and will be operating on First Wind’s Maui-based wind farm, Kaheawa Wind Power II, by the middle of 2012, Xtreme Power added.

Siegel said it’s a new concept of taking a renewable and converting it to grid asset. Once the asset is completed, it will be an integral part of grid management system and allow them to shut off diesel generators.

Further, the market is recognizing the superior performance of storage systems that can generate a much faster response. First Wind is developing projects that would potentially have energy storage – Siegel said it comes down to whether they can derive more value from projects with storage than without.

At the Jefferies Global Clean Technology Conference in February, Coe said storage can help put solar and wind into the weakest part of the grid without doing any costly upgrades.

Xtreme’s additional projects include a renewable integration project in the South Pole; solar power generation systems and electric vehicle charging stations at a Ford plant in Michigan; and a Duke Energy project in Texas, in which Xtreme performed a grid balancing service on a wind farm to create a more reliable source of energy.

Venture Investment in Energy Storage Grows

According to a recent AOL story, energy storage companies have raised $630.5 million in the past year. The market is divided into consumer-scale electronics, electric vehicles, utility-scale storage and power management systems.

According to VentureWire, venture investment in energy storage technology in the U.S. set a record in 2011, topping $372 million.  Firms have invested $1.7 billion in clean technology battery companies since 2005, with $1.33 billion of that being invested in the U.S.

At a recent energy storage panel, panelist Hanns Anners of Claremont Creek Ventures said that storage is an attractive market because it is so huge, but low natural gas prices have slowed development of grid-level energy storage solutions.

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