Advanced Energy Perspectives

NEWS: How the Law of Conservation of Energy Applies to Generation Sites, as Advanced Energy Moves In Where Old Energy Had Been

Posted by Lexie Briggs

Aug 26, 2016 11:26:18 AM



Working in the advanced energy field, we all know about the law of conservation of energy, which states that total energy remains constant but can be converted into new forms. Advanced energy takes advantage of that in a big way: turning sunlight, wind, tides, waste, and more into energy that is secure, clean, and affordable. There is a small but growing trend suggesting a new corollary. Call it “the law of conservation of energy sites.” Aging or outmoded power plants are being turned into advanced energy outposts, from energy storage taking over old coal and gas plants to a solar farm proposed for one of the most notorious abandoned power plants in the world. This week Advanced Energy Perspectives gets metaphorical as we apply the first law of thermodynamics to old power plants sites.

In California, some utility companies are seeking to replace old power plants with higher performing natural gas units paired with integrated storage capacity. The most recent is a partnership between AltaGas and Southern California Edison, which announced a 20 MW storage project at the utility’s existing natural gas Pomona Facility. The 20 MW of capacity would have a four-hour duration, which makes for 80 MWh of discharging capacity. AltaGas will also update the Pomona Facility, having applied to the California Energy Commission to repower it into a fast ramping, flexible peaking facility. The future facility would have 100MW of generating capacity (up from 44.5MW), along with the storage capacity.

“Adding battery storage to our California power portfolio proves the versatility of our asset base and greatly enhances the value of what we can offer the California and Desert Southwest markets through integrated energy centers providing clean reliable electricity,” David Harris, president and chief executive at AltaGas, said.

As we have noted before, elsewhere in California, AES Storage is adding 200 MW of storage to 100 MW already in place as part of an the overhaul of an old natural gas power plant in Long Beach. AES is replacing the old plant with a smaller, more efficient, faster starting gas generator and tripling the storage capacity, making it the largest storage site in the world, according to AES. The Alamitos Energy Center and Alamitos Battery Energy Storage System are expected to be online by 2021.

“Our new AEC will help prevent blackouts and fill the energy gap created by the closure of older, less efficient plants in southern California,” AES said. “It will be half the size of the existing one, will use more efficient technology, start and stop more quickly, and will help the state meet its energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals.”

It’s not just natural gas plants, and it’s not just California, where the conversion of old energy sites to advanced energy is taking place. Last year, Duke Energy began work to install 4 MW of battery storage at a retired coal power plant in Ohio. The facility, the W.C. Beckjord Station in New Richmond, Ohio, began producing power southeast of Cincinnati in 1952. The coal plant was retired in 2014, but became a valuable energy storage asset almost immediately, with the first 2 MW of battery storage coming online in January. 

“Delivering that power in seconds, as opposed to a power plant that could take 10 minutes or more to ramp up, is the unique value the battery system provides to grid operators,” Phil Grigsby, Duke Energy's vice president of commercial transmission, said in a statement last year.

Duke is also working to replace another retired coal plant in North Carolina with advanced energy. The 376 MW coal-fired Asheville Plant came online in 1964. As the needs of the region grew and changed (“in the past four decades, our customers’ electricity use in the Asheville area has more than doubled,” the Duke Energy facility website reads) however, the company decided to modernize. The $1 billion plan involves building a 650 MW combined-cycle natural gas plant, along with a solar farm. The company expects the gas-plus-solar combo to come online in 2019.

“We've developed an innovative plan that's a ‘win-win-win’ for consumers, the environment and the economy,” Lloyd Yates, Duke Energy executive vice president of market solutions and president of the Carolinas region, said in a statement

Then, just this month, both the trade press and general news outlets have gotten excited about a Ukrainian government proposal to build a massive solar farm inside the Chernobyl exclusion zone. The land is still unsafe to live on and unsafe to grow food, but the facility still has functional electrical hookups, and is located near Kiev. Biggest challenges: The people who install the solar facility would be putting themselves at risk of radiation poisoning from the still-toxic atmosphere. Plus, the government needs to raise the $1.1 billion from investors before it can move forward. But the prospect of greater energy independence, and a future where Chernobyl is once again producing energy, is pretty neat.

Building advanced energy on top of extant electricity generation sites makes a lot of sense. The facilities are located in places that made sense to generate electricity, often near population centers, and transmission hookups are already in place. Plus, there’s a simple poetry to it: putting in advanced energy to replace legacy forms of electricity generation that got us to this point. After all, as we know from physics, energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Bring it on.

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