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Recruiting Energy Customers to Use More

by Matthew L. Wald
New York Times, November 7, 2011

A wind farm near Ellensburg, Wash. Utilities have asked homeowners to help store excess energy to protect the grid. As I wrote in Saturday's paper, the growth of wind energy in the Pacific Northwest has sometimes resulted in more electricity generation than the Bonneville Power Administration can handle. So the agency is paying for a pilot program in which home water heaters and space heaters can be centrally controlled, and soak up excess power.

To deal with high generation from renewable sources at times of low demand, it would have to sign up thousands of households as participants. Yet the agency is also working with an industrial customer that could absorb much more.

The Nippon Paper Industries mill in Port Angeles, Wash., which makes paper for telephone books, has an average load of 53 megawatts, which is roughly 1,000 times the peak load of a typical house. But the mill's load can run up to 73 megawatts.

One of the big electricity consumers at the plant is the pulping operation, which turns wood chips into an intermediate product on its way to becoming paper.

While the mill pulps the paper at the rate at which its machines are the most efficient, it could pulp faster, turning pulp into a kind of battery. "What we've looked at is the possibility of more storage capacity," said Harold S. Norlund, the mill manager. "A phone call could come and say, ‘We have a problem for 24 hours -- can you use more energy?'" he said.

Normally we think of renewable energy as a replacement for fossil fuels like natural gas or coal. But Nippon, which uses a lot of steam, gets some of its energy by burning wood waste, which is itself a form of renewable energy.. So the revised idea is that it would switch to electricity from wind at certain hours and save the wood pulp for burning as needed later.

The Bonneville Power Administration is also working with the Landing Mall in Port Angeles, which houses art galleries, other retailers and a tour operator. The mall has installed a small battery pack that can smooth out its electricity demand. Its system also includes a wind machine that can produce nearly three kilowatts (about as much current as is used by two hair dryers), plus 22 solar panels.

"I'm a guy that enjoys unique projects," said Paul P. Cronauer, the mall manager. He's hoping that customers will, too; the system includes a display that customers can watch to see where the power is coming from and how the mall interacts with the grid.

Related Pages:
Taming Unruly Wind Power by Matthew L. Wald, New York Times, 11/4/11

Matthew L. Wald
Recruiting Energy Customers to Use More
New York Times, November 7, 2011

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