GE recently sold the first of a new line of “hybrid” wind turbines that comes with a battery attached. The turbine’s battery can store the equivalent of less than one minute of the turbine operating at full power. But, by pairing the battery with advanced wind-forecasting algorithms, wind farm operators could guarantee a certain amount of power output for up to an hour.
This could make integrating intermittent renewable energy far easier, and lower the cost of wind power. Indeed, even relatively small batteries could double the amount of renewable energy the power grid can handle.
The true cost of renewable energy will, to some extent, depend on how much energy storage is needed (see “Better Computer Models Needed for Mega Wind Farms”). Much attention has been on how to develop extremely cheap batteries to make it possible to, say, store wind power at night for use when it’s needed during the day. But depending on how fast the renewables are deployed and the nature of the wind and solar resources in different areas, such large batteries often won’t be needed for decades. Small and more affordable batteries can make it possible to use renewable energy for a large fraction of the power on the grid.
GE isn’t alone in recognizing that even small amounts of energy storage could have a big impact. One of the biggest problems with renewable energy is that the speed with which it can increase and decrease—as clouds obscure the sun or the wind drops—can be far faster than conventional power plants can change their output to compensate. But even small batteries can respond to these changes almost instantly.