Northwest research discovery could rock energy storage world

The research could establish ways to store power created by wind turbines and other means in porous rocks in Eastern Oregon and elsewhere.

The research could establish ways to store power created by wind turbines and other means in porous rocks in Eastern Oregon and elsewhere.

Deep below the surfaces of Oregon and Washington, there are rocks, many, many porous rocks.

And at just one relatively small Columbia Gorge site studied by two leading energy researchers, those porous rocks can store enough power to power 85,000 homes every month.

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Bonneville Power Administration researchers made the discovery as they studied new ways to utilize compressed air storage spaces. The $790,000 study concluded the region’s wind power could be tucked below-ground in porous rock reserves, storing surplus energy for when it’s needed and adding flexibility to the region’s power grid.

The work by the lab and BPA hints that the two Columbia Gorge sites the groups studied could serve as ground zero for a revolutionary surplus power storage idea.

If the sites were developed, they could remedy BPA’s oversupply problems, which have taken wind turbines offline in the last two years. At the same time, heavy rains and melting snow are generating more hydropower than the region can consume in spring.

“You could store the wind at night when there is low demand for energy and then you could basically call upon that energy at peak times during the day, when you need it and when there’s a better price for that energy,” said Joel Scruggs, a BPA spokesman.

The project was spurred by BPA’s Technology Innovation Office, which seeks solutions to problems in the power business and ways to improve or apply new technologies to the region’s grid. PNNL, the 4,500-worker lab managed by Ohio-based Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy, committed funding for the storage project.

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