Wind power is irregular; it can change in speed or direction quickly and often. When using wind power in conventional distribution systems, wind power can only be used to bolster a dependable energy source such as coal. Solar power is less irregular than wind since it does not change in intensity as quickly as wind sources can. But since it varies with the amount of sunlight and changing weather patterns, it is less dependable. However, solutions exist to extend the usability of both wind and solar power, and increase their dependability, with effective energy storage methods.
Most people first think of batteries when talking about energy storage. Batteries rely on chemical interactions to store energy and are good at storing energy for long periods of time. But batteries are not cost effective for storing large amounts of energy. The most effective form of large scale energy storage is physical potential energy. Potential energy is is harnessed when objects are lifted and then released back to ground level.
Pumped hydrodynamic energy storage uses pumps to move water uphill when energy is in excess, and turbines to recapture the energy upon water release. Hydro energy storage is used for non-intermittent sources as well. By allowing excess energy to be captured at night when energy demand is low, conventional power plants can run continuously to maximize efficiency.
However, alteration of conventional energy outputs is actually a method used to maximize the usefulness of wind energy. When wind is incorporated to existing power systems, computer programs optimize wind energy input and can reduce the feed rate of coal and gas processes. This method has proven to be a cost effective method of reducing carbon outputs without building excessive additional infrastructure.
Other energy storage forms are still in the development stage but are expected to have high potential. Wind power cannot use some of the energy storage systems made available to solar power via heat energy, such as molten salt energy storage. Fortunately, wind power can use any number of kinetic storage options. The concept of pumped hydroelectric storage can also be applied to wind energy through compressed air storage. Operating under the same idea, compressed air storage could be ideal. It can be used with man-made storage tanks and used in places where water resources are not available.
Flywheel technology uses low friction rotating systems to store kinetic energy. It can also be useful to wind energy since it can handle changes in power flow reasonably well. However, it is unable to hold energy for significant lengths of time and while it can be used to smooth the connection between wind energy and a grid, it cannot alone be used as energy storage.
A fledgling technology that has high applicability to wind energy is hydrogen fuel cell technology. Hydrogen energy storage has the potential to be incredibly lightweight and scalable, as far as energy storage technology is concerned. While it is not yet at a stage where it can be employed at power utility scales, hydrogen fuel cells appear to be a good fit for individual towers in wind farms.
As battery technology advances, it could be the best option for capturing and holding wind energy. New battery technologies are able to hold large amounts of energy as well as charge and discharge quickly. Lithium ion technology is making a name for itself in this arena, particularly in relation to electric cars and household solar storage. Sodium sulfur technology is another technology that is nearing fruition and is better suited to industrial applications than household since sodium sulfur batteries operate at high temperatures. As these batteries enter the manufacturing stage of development, it is likely that they will be optimal choices for wind farm installations.
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