Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Scottish Power Looking to Increase Energy Storage Capacity

It is a given when trying to design and build a green data centre that energy storage will be an important part of the equation. Excess energy generated by alternative sources under ideal conditions needs to be stored for use when conditions are less than ideal. It is the age-old conundrum that green energy has faced since the industry was launched more than a decade ago. It is one that Scottish Power is attempting to address with plans to increase its own energy storage capacity.

Scottish Power is hoping to build a new dam at its Cruachan plant near Oban. The purpose of the new dam would be to increase its hydro pumping capacity, thereby increasing the amount of power it can add to the National Grid to make up for less-than-adequate supply as wind power accelerates across the UK. The utility believes it can generate an additional 400 MW of on-demand power through the construction project.

How Hydro Pumping Works

Hydro pumping, which is the process Scottish Power wants to employ through its new dam, involves pumping water to higher elevations during the overnight hours – using wind power – while prices are lower. Energy is essentially stored in that water that is now sitting and waiting to be released. During the day, when energy prices go up, the water can be released in a controlled manner. Gravity forces it down and into turbines that can generate more power than was used to pump the water the night before.

The system is cost-effective in the sense that there is a net gain in the amount of energy produced. However, building and maintaining the infrastructure is not cheap. Scottish Power is already saying it can only afford to build the dam if the government is willing to guarantee a specific floor price for energy added to the grid. The company says that the entire project will run them between £300 million and £400 million. In exchange for the guarantee, the utility is willing to accept capped profits. The government has not yet indicated whether it is on board with the plan.

Storage Makes All the Difference

It matters not whether you are talking about hydro pumping, wind farms, or using excess energy from data centres to generate electricity that can be added back to the grid. It is storage that makes all the difference. Whereas fossil fuel energy production can be tightly controlled (coal, oil, and gas can be burned at any time of the night or day), green energy is heavily reliant on the co-operation of nature. Making green energy cost-effective requires storing excess energy under optimal conditions in anticipation of those times when unfavourable conditions limit energy production.

As we develop more effective storage solutions, the promise of green energy becomes more realistic. But make no mistake, we are nowhere near mastering the storage problem. It makes sense to help Scottish Power do what it wants to do, knowing that this will help push green energy forward.

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