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Sunday, January 8, 2023

Energy Portfolio - Solar, Wind, & Batteries

“Don't put all your eggs in one basket.”

That ol' phrase is good advice for many things in life. One example is investing. A mutual fund is a basket of different stocks. This is safer than owning just an individual stock. To be even safer, you could hold a combination of stock mutual funds, bonds, and cash. If stocks are down, maybe bonds are up. If both are down, well at least you still have the cash. But this is not a financial blog and that's not financial advice, so let's move on to our usual topics EVs and Energy. 

This same diversity of assets lesson is now being applied to renewable energy. 

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) reported that Portland General Electric, the largest utility in Oregon, is building a large-scale wind, solar, and battery facility.

OPB says, “Nestled in the hills of Morrow County, hundreds of solar panels and wind turbines are generating a product that will soon be in high demand around the state — clean electric energy.”

This is the diversified energy portfolio: solar, wind, & batteries.

Wind: Morrow County, Oregon is near one of the best windsurfing regions on the continent in the Columbia River Gorge.

Sun: Morrow County is also in the sunny eastern part of Oregon (really, it's not all rainy there).

Batteries: The 30 MW/120 MWh of batteries here will absorb the surplus energy when the sun and/or wind are making more than the grid needs. And it will fill in the gaps when the wind dies down or clouds pass over.

The goal is to have this site supply renewable energy 24 / 7 / 365.

With renewable energy, just as with investing, if reliability is your goal, diversity is a good thing. This is an energy portfolio of solar, wind, and batteries. Continuing the investing analogy, you can think of the solar panels as stocks, they are great when the sun is shining. The wind turbines are like bonds, they're not as sexy, but they are less volatile and often perform when stocks/solar don't. And finally, we have batteries, they are like cash-on-hand, you know exactly how much you have and you can save it or spend it as needed at your discretion.

Ok, enough for the finance talk. Solar, wind, and batteries complement each other well. The solar panels will generate energy during the day and (of course) nothing at night. This generally scales well with increased daytime energy use. Solar also scales seasonally with more generation in the summer when the air conditioners are humming. Solar production is significantly diminished in the winter up here north of the 45th parallel; however, this is when the winds tend to really blow. And finally, you have batteries to fill in the gaps and absorb the excess.

A surprisingly small amount of energy storage (batteries) will make a big impact on the grid; this will be a game-changer for renewables on Oregon's grid. Batteries are what changes renewables from a volatile source that spikes the grid with power one moment, then little to none the next moment, to something that the grid can use to add stability. Batteries are instantly dispatchable. I call this digital energy.

Managing batteries is a new challenge for electric utilities. There are lessons yet to be learned. Such as where's the best place to physically locate the batteries? Is it at the generation location (as in this facility) or should the batteries be closer to the consumption location? Or some combination?

Oregon's last coal plant closed in October 2020. This new installation is about 30 miles from the shuttered coal plant. My favorite part of this story is that the transmission lines that once carried the dirty energy from the coal plant will now transmit renewable power from this renewable energy farm.

Right now, we have the technologies that are needed to move to a future free from fossil fuels. We don't have to wait for fusion or some other big breakthrough. Let's put the resources that we have, here and now, to work. Most deployments are held back by a lack of political willpower, not a missing technology. 

Here in Oregon, we have the political will, and our major electric utilities are required to move to emission-free generation. The Clean Energy Targets bill (HB 2021) requires utilities to reduce emissions as follows: 

  • 80% below baseline emissions levels by 2030
  • 90% below baseline emissions levels by 2035
  • 100% below baseline emissions levels by 2040
That means the generation that's born about a generation from now might be referred to as the clean-generation generation.


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