The clean energy trifecta: wind, solar and storage in one project

Elected officials and energy company executives gathered last week in rural Oregon to celebrate the completion of the Wheatridge Renewable Energy Facility, which combines a wind farm, solar array and battery.

This is the fourth and largest project in the United States to combine these three renewable energy sources in one location.

Power companies call the combination a “hybrid” power plant, an increasingly popular development approach in which companies see an opportunity to save money and provide more stable power generation by building different renewable resources next to each other.

To understand the importance of Whitridge’s project, I reached out to Mark Bollinger of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a co-author of a series of reports on hybrid renewable energy, the most recent of which came out in August.

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“Most of these hybrid power plants are just solar and battery,” Bollinger said. “What makes (Whitridge) special is that it also includes an element of wind.”

Wheatridge was created by NextEra Energy Resources for use by the Portland General Electric utility. It includes a 200-megawatt wind farm, a 50-megawatt solar array, and a 30-megawatt battery; the battery has a duration of four hours. The three components together can supply the electricity needs of about 100,000 homes.

Bollinger and his colleagues counted 140 projects in the United States that combine solar power and storage; 14 projects combining wind and storage; nine projects that combine solar and wind; and three, in addition to Whitridge, with wind, solar and shelter. (The other three with the wind-solar-storage trifecta are the Grand Ridge project in Illinois, Northwest Ohio Wind in Ohio, and the Jersey Atlantic Wind Farm in New Jersey.)

The report notes that most of the new storage capacity that came online in the United States in 2021 was part of a hybrid solar system. Thus, this approach to creating battery storage together with renewable energy sources has turned from novelty to commonplace in a few years.

Wind and sun work well together, with the wind usually strongest at night and the sun of course strongest during the day. The batteries can be switched on to discharge electricity at low temperatures for the other two and during high consumer demand.

But the complementary nature of the three resources is true whether they are on the same site or miles apart on the same regional network.

So why build hybrid renewable projects? Bollinger described several benefits:

Savings in development and operating costs: It is less difficult for a company to obtain a lease agreement for one large piece of land in one jurisdiction than to do so in several different locations. In addition, different components can share the same network connection point, which reduces costs. Once a project is built, fewer employees are needed to provide maintenance when all the parts are close to each other.

Ease of needing only one network connection: Developers often have to wait a long time for permission to connect new projects to the network for various technical and bureaucratic reasons. It helps that a hybrid project can have two or three components that only need to be applied to a single network connection.

Batteries combined with renewable energy sources can help in congested grid regions: Some parts of the grid do not have enough transmission line capacity at certain times of the day to supply all the solar and wind power generated. When there’s nowhere to go, some of the wind and solar power shuts down, meaning it’s temporarily shut down. If the project has batteries on site, it can store excess wind and solar for later use.

Before the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August, there was another reason: Storage projects were eligible for the federal investment tax credit when combined with renewable energy sources, but storage projects were not eligible on their own. The loan was up to 30 percent of the project cost.

A new federal law allows data storage projects to qualify for the tax credit even if they are not combined with other resources.

Changes in tax incentives may force developers to do more stand-alone storage projects instead of hybrids. Bollinger said he is eager to see if the current advantages of hybrids are enough to continue to drive growth.

Whitridge is located in northeastern Oregon, in a flat, rural area.

The project will help Oregon comply with a State Law 2021 it says major utilities must cut emissions from power generation by 100 percent by 2040, with interim goals between then and then.

“I strongly believe that we can simultaneously transition to 100 percent clean electricity and create good-paying jobs in rural Oregon,” said Governor Kate Brown. statement. “The urgency of putting clean energy projects online could not be clearer. Extreme heat, wildfires, drought and winter storms – we’re seeing the effects of climate change in Oregon, with some of the biggest impacts in rural Oregon.”

Like renewable energy plants in general, hybrid plants are getting bigger.

Another big one is this Skeleton Creek Project in Oklahoma, which is scheduled to go online early next year with 250 megawatts of wind, 250 megawatts of solar, and a 200 megawatt battery system. Like Wheatbridge, it is being developed by NextEra.

So Whitbridge now holds the crown of the country’s largest wind-solar hybrid based on total capacity, but only for a few more months.


Other energy transition stories to note this week:

Electric cars are increasing demand for electricity, but not as much as you might think: During the recent power shortage, California officials asked consumers not to charge their electric vehicles during certain times, leading to comments about the folly of converting the entire fleet to electric vehicles. But the actual electricity demand for electric vehicles is quite manageable now and in the near future Colin McKercher writes for Bloomberg. “Integrating electric vehicles into the power system will still require careful planning, off-peak charging incentives to reduce peak demand, and localized grid reinforcement in many locations,” he wrote. “However, as a share of global electricity demand, this contribution will be very modest for several years.”

This 100 percent solar community weathered Hurricane Yang with no loss of power and minimal damage: Babcock Ranch, Florida bills itself as “America’s first solar town,” with much of its electricity coming from a nearby solar array. Many residents also have rooftop solar panels and batteries. Those systems proved resilient in the face of Hurricane Ian, keeping the lights on even as the storm destroyed parts of nearby Fort Myers and Naples and knocked out power for millions of customers, as Rachel Ramirez reports for CNN. “Now we have evidence of this case because (the hurricane) came right at us,” Nancy Chorpenning, 68, of Babcock Ranch, told CNN. “We have water, electricity, internet, and we may be the only people in Southwest Florida that are so fortunate.”

Tesla shares fell after its third-quarter sales report: Tesla said this week that it increased shipments of new vehicles in the third quarter compared to the year-ago quarter, but the growth missed analysts’ expectations, sending the company’s shares selling off. Tesla has faced mounting problems at its new factories in Germany and Texas, a change in management and soaring commodity prices, as Laura Kolodny reports to CNBC. The drop in share price is a sign that investors were concerned about the results, but Wall Street analysts were divided on the company’s future prospects.

Want a career saving the planet? Become an electrician: Installing solar panels, heat pumps and transmission lines will require a lot of electricians. But the industry is facing a shortage of how Shannon Osaka reports for The Washington Post. Part of the problem is that more people are leaving the profession than entering it. “Over the past 20 years, there’s been a lot of negative messaging about marketing to millennials and Gen Z,” said Sam Steyer, president and CEO of Greenwork, a startup that connects clean energy workers with companies. “There were a lot of articles saying, ‘All the blue-collar jobs are going to go, everyone is going to be information workers or janitors.’

Village officials face intense pressure against solar development: In Pickaway County, Ohio, a staunch group of solar opponents has dominated the local debate over proposed projects, packing county, village and town meetings and voicing their displeasure when officials aren’t supportive. This is the third part of my series for ICN on rural resistance to renewable energy. It shows how solar opponents convinced local officials to join the opposition, to the dismay of residents who support the projects.

Pure energy inside is ICN’s weekly newsletter with news and analysis on the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to The clean energy trifecta: wind, solar and storage in one project

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