Every day, we use the natural resources of our state. We are lucky to live in a region with ample farmland, mountains for hiking and biking, and vast areas for wind power and solar energy. As we look to the future, we know new clean forms of energy are needed. To date, Washington is already 9th in the nation in total megawatts of installed wind generation. And, according to the American Wind Energy Association, wind power in Washington saves 2.4 million metric tons of carbon from being emitted yearly.
However, wind and solar can come and go, so relying on them as a primary power source can be a challenge. Nobody wants the lights to go out because the wind isn’t blowing. The power generated by wind and solar traditionally needs to be used immediately, so using the sources as a reliable, base load replacement for existing energy isn’t possible. Luckily, we live in a state where innovation is highly valued by our businesses, government agencies and universities.
Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, was one of 11 utilities to participate in the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project in 2009. Washington State University was also a partner. In 2014, Avista announced that it would build an Energy Storage Project in Pullman to test the storage capacity of a new type of battery developed by Mukilteo, WA-based UniEnergy Technologies (UET). To develop the advanced battery technology, UET used a breakthrough from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. PNNL created a battery that stores up to 70% more than previous versions. Through this work, the organizations have found a way to store wind energy when it’s abundant, so that its power can be used on demand when it’s needed, thus increasing adoption rates and reducing carbon emissions.
Funding for the $7 million project came from a grant from the Washington Department of Commerce’s Clean Energy Fund and Avista matching funds. In an effort to spur development of clean energy technologies, the Fund provides grants to projects that may otherwise lack the capital to get off the ground. Through its own investments and matching grants, Avista has recently invested more than $80 million to enhance the reliability and improve the efficiency of its electric distribution system.
In April 2015, the research became reality. Washington Governor Jay Inslee and other dignitaries were on hand to “flip the switch,” to connect Avista’s Energy Storage Project to the electrical grid. The largest vanadium-flow battery in North America and the E.U. is now located in Pullman, where it is fully online and operational for load shifting, frequency and voltage regulation. Avista is testing seven different scenarios to explore how energy storage can help the electrical grid become more flexible, more reliable and more resilient. The lessons learned will help address one of the biggest challenges facing the energy industry – how to integrate intermittent renewable energy into the electric grid.
Because of a Washington State grant, multiple innovative companies and a world-class public university are leading the way in integrating renewable energy into the electric grid. This is the kind of public and private partnership that can effect real change.
Gov. Inslee, Senator Cantwell and Congresswoman McMorris-Rodgers all have lauded those involved for their leadership and dedication to the state’s energy future. This is but one example of a company looking to advance clean energy through collaborative efforts and another reminder of how Washington businesses are leaders in innovation.