March 27, 2007 4:00 AM PDT
Saving wind power for later
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The 'Saudi Arabia of wind'
Compressed-air energy storage is promising, but Magee said General Compression itself faces a number of challenges.
The company has a substantial engineering task ahead of it, and it has to prove that the resulting equipment will be financially interesting to wind farm investors, he said.
Also, finding appropriate sites for General Compression's turbines would be even more complex than typical wind farms because some sort of geological formation, such as depleted gas fields or mines, would be required for storage in many cases.
Executives at General Compression, however, see a number of applications where on-site storage makes sense.
Its planned customers are utilities or energy-intensive industries, such as aluminum or fertilizer makers. The compressed air also can be used for carbon dioxide sequestration or to make hydrocarbon fuels like methane or methanol, Marcus said. U.S. government agencies have expressed interest in wind-powered military bases that would not be dependent on the electric grid.
In the case where there isn't a geologic formation available, underground pipelines--now used for natural gas--could store between 6 and 12 hours of a wind farm's power generation.
Marcus and his brother David, who is company CEO, have been working in the wind industry for about four five years. In trips to the Dakotas, Marcus said he feels he's standing in the "Saudi Arabia of wind power," although no one has yet to put a drill in the ground.
He predicts that if deployed widely, wind could make up over half of the U.S. power generation--a far cry from today. The total amount of power generated by wind turbines is growing rapidly worldwide, but it represents a tiny fraction of total electricity generation in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy.
"You're never going to change the fact that wind is intermittent, but there's so much energy there to be grabbed," Marcus said. "The equipment doesn't need to get better. The price for the energy needs to change."
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