Xcel Energy to store wind power with new battery

LOS ANGELES, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Utility company Xcel Energy XEL.N said on Thursday it will begin testing a battery to store wind energy so it can be distributed consistently, no matter if the wind comes in strong gales or light breezes.

The one-megawatt (MW) battery, when fully charged, could power 500 homes for over 7 hours, Xcel said.

“We are going to use it to shape the output of the wind farm,” Xcel Director of Corporate Planning Frank Novacheck said in an interview, adding the battery would serve as a sort of “shock absorber” that will charge when the wind blows and supplement power flows when there is little or no wind.

Wind generation in the United States has been growing at a rapid pace as utilities seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in some cases because states are requiring more renewable power.

But wind’s intermittent nature will pose challenges to utilities as it becomes a larger contributor to overall power generation, Xcel said. That is why batteries are needed.

“The variability of the wind causes other supply resources on the system to have to vary to accommodate that wind,” Novacheck said. “Because of the amount of wind we are going to be putting in our systems, those higher penetrations of wind can cause some problems in cycling of our systems, so we are looking at storage to provide that shock absorption to help us manage taking as much wind as we possibly can.”

Other utilities, including American Electric Power Co Inc AEP.N, are using batteries to bolster reliability and storage capacity, but Xcel said its project is the first U.S. use of a battery as a direct wind energy storage device.

Japan’s NGK Insulators Ltd is making the battery for Xcel, which will begin testing it in October at an 11 MW wind farm in Luverne, Minnesota, east of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

The project has been selected to receive a $1 million grant from Minnesota’s Renewable Development Fund, Xcel said, pending approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Xcel, of Minneapolis, owns and operates more than 15,000 MW of generating capacity, markets energy commodities, and transmits and distributes electricity and natural gas to customers in 10 U.S. Western and Midwestern states. (Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Andre Grenon)