Although soaring demand on hot days have sometimes forced utilities to ask households to use less power, the rise of wind energy in the Pacific northwest sometimes creates moments when there is too much electricity for the grid to soak up, threatening blackouts, reports Matthew Wald at the New York Times. So in a novel pilot project, the local utility, the Bonneville Power Administration, has recruited consumers to draw in excess electricity when that happens, storing it in a basement water heater or a space heater outfitted by the utility. When excess supply threatens Bonneville’s grid, an operator in a control room hundreds of miles away will now dial up a volunteer’s water heater, raising the thermostat by 60 more degrees. Ceramic bricks in a nearby electric space heater can be warmed to hundreds of degrees. Functioning as thermal batteries, the devices can then give back energy when it is needed. Microchips run both systems, ensuring that tap-water and room temperatures in the home hardly vary. Mark Lauby, a grid expert, notes that such storage innovations might prevail as the US shifts to greater reliance on renewable energy. It’s all part of the evolving solution of transitioning to clean renewable energy.
Taming unruly wind power. For decades, electric companies have swung into emergency mode when demand soars on blistering hot days, appealing to households to use less power. But with the rise of wind energy, utilities in the Pacific Northwest are sometimes dealing with the opposite: too much electricity. New York Times