Batteries and Solar Might Be Like Chocolate and Peanut Butter
David J. Petersen
Currently, the largest operating solar energy facility in Oregon is the 56 megawatt Gala Solar facility near Prineville, which generates electricity for Apple. But homegrown Oregon developer Obsidian Renewables has plans for something much, much bigger.
Six solar projects developed by Obsidian are already up and running in Oregon, including the 2.5 megawatt Black Cap and Lakeview projects in Lake County, which as recently as 2012 were the largest in Oregon. But the proposed 600 megawatt Obsidian Solar Center would dwarf them all, generating a supply of power equal to that of many fossil fuel-powered plants.
Although its size alone makes the proposal unique, it also comes with an interesting twist – batteries. The facility could be built with a corresponding "battery farm" to store power from the project or the grid for use later, when demand is high and the sun isn't shining. Obsidian believes the project could include batteries providing as much as 150 megawatts of storage for up to five hours, which is bigger than any battery facility operating in the United States at this time.
Renewable energy is often criticized for producing intermittent power when it is least needed, so combining generation with storage is by no means a new idea. In addition to batteries, other ideas include pumping water uphill with excess renewable energy when demand is low, to release into turbines later when demand is high, or doing the same with compressed air, stored either in a tank or underground. But with costs coming down rapidly, batteries are increasingly the technology with the best odds to corner the storage market. Colorado utility Xcel has received several attractive bids to develop solar or wind projects paired with batteries. A wind plus batteries facility built by carmaker Tesla in Australia is already getting rave reviews for its ability to quickly respond to power outages in that country's energy grid.
Obsidian has begun the process with the state Energy Facility Siting Council to obtain the necessary permits. Whether the project is ultimately built will depend on many factors, including the permitting process, energy prices, energy demand, and potential policy changes. But in the long run, combining renewable energy generation with batteries is a very promising potential solution to a clean energy future.