Home-based batteries for wind power

A wind farm near Ellensburg, Wash. Utilities have asked homeowners to help store excess energy to protect the grid.

As the trend continues to generate electricity closer to the point of use and people are setting up wind and solar electricity generators in their homes and businesses, the need to have storage of excess energy increases. Oversupply of electricity can cause blackouts to the grid so utilities need to find some kind of battery system. But how to do this?

In the Pacific Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration has set up a program to store this excess electricity in people's appliances. This is an interesting take on the way they control limited power here on the East Coast.

Last summer, for instance, I was wondering why my house was getting so hot on a particular summer day. I checked the thermostat, then went outside to look at the unit. While I watched, I saw it turn on. Then, after a few minutes, it turned off again, even though the house was still not down to the temperature I had set. What was going on? I called the utility and they laughed at me. They reminded me that I had signed up for a program that reduced my power bills by 10% and gave the utility the power to turn off my AC "for a few minutes at a time" to save energy. Well, the utility got through the day without needing any rolling blackouts but I and many thousands of other suckers had a hot, uncomfortable day in their homes.

So what does this have to do with storing electricity? The BPA is setting up some customers with ceramic bricks in electric space heaters that can be warmed up several hundreds of degrees by remote control. Water heaters can be heated up by up to 60 degrees. Then this energy can be returned later when the excess is gone. Apparently the utility can still control the tap-water temperature in the homes so that customers don't get scalded.