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The energy storage myth May 28, 2012

Posted by Maury Markowitz in power grid, solar.
Tags: , ,

One of the decrepit arguments the “big power” supporters -which basically means nuclear- love to wheel out at every possibility is the “problem” of energy storage. It comes up over and over and over again.

They say that renewables don’t deliver power 24/7, so if you want to use them, you have to be able to store it somewhere. And -they continue- since we don’t have this storage, what we really have to do build backup systems, like gas plants. So renewables increase CO2.

Oh, there’s a problem all right, a problem with the argument. Quite simply, the storage problem doesn’t exist.

I love numbers

I was reading a recent interview with Thierry Vandal, President and CEO of Hydro-Quebec. In the interview he lets slip an interesting statistic, “We can store a lot of power, in fact more power than the state of New York consumes in an entire year.”

Ok, so time to apply a little Google-Fu. Over on the EIA website we find that New York State uses about 144 TWh of power a year. But this is a Canadian blog, so let’s convert. Over on the CIA World Factbook, we find that Canada, as a whole, uses about 345 TWh a year.

So that means that as I write this, Hydro Quebec has enough power stored up to power all of Canada for half the year.

Does that sound like we have a problem? Exactly. Energy storage for renewables is talked about in terms of hours, days or weeks. Not months. We have months. Now. Sitting idle.

Think about it this way…

Hydro Quebec’s peak power capacity is about 40 GW. So lets say we build 40 GW of wind and another 40 GW of PV. You see, wind is great in the winter and not so hot in the summer, and PV’s exactly the other way around. So far so good? Whenever we do have those sources coming in, which is about 40% of the time (20% wind, 20% PV) we turn off the taps in James Bay.

So just how much is 40 GW? Well it’s more than enough to power all of Ontario and Quebec, put together. Ontario’s all-time peak was on 1 August 2006 when it hit 27 GW, but averages are closer to 20. Quebec peaks in the winter (they convinced everyone to use electrical heating – suckers) and it hits as much as 35 GW. The beauty is that they never peak at the same time.

So basically Ontario can take all their power during the summer, offsetting everything we can with PV. Quebec can use it all during the winter, offsetting it with wind. There’s more than enough in total to power both,  100% renewable, 0 carbon, and with six months backup supply.

Problem? What problem?


1. Dr Gustaf Anthony Keen - May 28, 2012

That’s fine , if you happen to have a QuebecHydro in your backyard…………

Maury Markowitz - May 28, 2012

It’s great to be an Ontarian! 🙂

2. Rod Adams - June 6, 2012

So you believe a statistic that you heard in an interview? What does it mean to have more energy in storage than NY uses in a year? Is that the amount of energy that would theoretically be produced if Hydro emptied all of its lakes completely? Is that even possible?

Storing energy is actually quite simple. Nature stored up a lot of energy for our use in the form of fossil fuel, but endowed us with a far greater supply of stored energy in the form of fissionable materials like uranium and thorium. Every kilogram of either of those contains more stored energy than 2,000,000 kilograms of oil or 6,000,000 – 10,000,000 kilograms of wood – depending on the type of wood.

Fission fuels are virtually inexhaustible – as determined by several well educated Canadians from McGill University. http://www.mcgill.ca/files/gec3/NuclearFissionFuelisInexhaustibleIEEE.pdf

Maury Markowitz - June 6, 2012

“So you believe a statistic that you heard in an interview”

Direct quotes from the CEO of Hydro Quebec? Yes.

Rod, your blog is filled with quotes from people who are far less credible.

“Fission fuels are virtually inexhaustible”

Hydro is *actually* inexhaustible, and falls from the sky for free. No mines, no waste.

Thank you for demonstrating the basis of my first paragraph.

3. Twominds - June 6, 2012

Lovely to have so much hydro possibilities. What about other parts of the world? I´d hoped to read something here about universally applicable storage, not something only regionally useful.


Maury Markowitz - June 6, 2012

That’s really a transport problem, not a storage problem. And transport isn’t that bad. It could be better, and should be better, but you can get those electrons to anywhere on the east coast, and it won’t be long before it hits the west coast too.

Maury Markowitz - June 6, 2012

Actually, thinking on it some more, I’d like to expand on this a bit.

According to the studies I’ve seen, perhaps a half-dozen of them, hydropower worldwide is developed to 50% at a maximum, and generally much less than that. Even if the most developed areas, like here in Canada where over 1/2 of our power comes from hydro, we have less than 60% development of *conventional sources alone*. That means we could take Canada to 100% hydro if we wanted, and that’s not including ample hydrodynamic resources.

This statistic appears to be true at all scales — we’re less than 50% developed in Ontario, less than 50% developed in Canada, and less than 50% developed in North America. What this means is that there is a whole lot of storage out there, and it’s well distributed geographically. And much of this capacity is simply upgrades to existing facilities – there’s another 11 GWe in James Bay for instance, and just today Ruacana’s upgrade completed, increasing power from 240 MW to about 330 MW with zero changes to the physical plant.

So, Twominds, I suspect your concern isn’t correct – hydropower can be just the “universally applicable storage” you came looking for.

Twominds - June 6, 2012

I was thinking about north west Europe. Hydro doesn´t have so much possibilities here, Norse fjords excepted, and creating punped storage facilities in low laying land is expensive. Transport costs and losses are already relatively low in the integrated european grid.

Other parts of the world will have the same limited possibilities for storage by reservoir lakes. I guess your part of the world is more of an exception.

My disappointment was that the title of your post suggested to me some specacular news about storage possibilities that weren´t there before, at least on a large scale.

4. Michael - January 28, 2013

I guess you can call Hydro “storage” the same way petrol is power storage, I wonder though, if all the hydro together has enough generating power to actually cover the peak loads not able to be covered by wind/PV…

at some point you’d be draining more from the dam’s feeding the hydro than actually goes into them, probably not a problem for you guys 🙂 a problem down under though!

in theory you could make a big fake dam and just use PV during the summer to run pumps which would fill the reservior, and that way be covered in winter, you’d need a massive surplus of PV to achieve that though lol interesting idea though.

last I checked the most promising method of energy storage for the home was something about using rock.

Maury Markowitz - January 28, 2013

The seasonality of hydro is an issue, indeed. Canada has peak hydro between March and June, and peak power use between December and March. Oh, if only those two were reversed!

But it is also worth noting we have peak solar between May and September, and peak wind pretty much every month except the summer.

Which is why I believe “the answer” for Canada is to use as much wind and solar as practical, offsetting hydro use when we can, and using those hydro resources as seasonal storage.

BTW I’ve heard of the hot rock storage concept, but it’s difficult to google because most hits you’ll get will be on home heating and cooling.

There is also a related concept using zeolites, which can dramatically increase the efficiency of the process. That might be a good idea for a new topic!

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