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BIG batteries and Integration

Integration—it’s a word you hear everywhere these days. Electronics need to be integrated so that your phone can follow your email at the office, Alexa can meld your purchasing and entertainment needs, and so on. What people are beginning to discover, is that ancient systems can be integrated into the most modern developments and, together, they can bring greater efficiencies.

Let’s take energy production with electricity. The first dynamos (in New York) were powered by steam engines, fired with coal. Shovel coal in, burn it, heat the water, steam powered pistons (like a stationary train) attached to a flywheel turn the copper windings in a coil and electricity is produced. Keep shoveling coal to keep the electricity on. The conversion? Coal to electricity. That system is still working today across the world. The problem is, if coal becomes in short supply, then electricity in those power plants is at risk (not to mention the pollution). 

The advantage of a hotter kettle producing steam with nuclear reactors is that they do not seem to run out of a heat source. The downside is that you can’t turn off a nuclear power plant to match demand fluctuation. At night many nuclear power plants ground the electricity into the earth, producing fields of molten glass.

So too, renewables have issues. For giant wind turbines to produce electricity all day long, they require wind all day long. If the wind dies, the turbines produce exactly nothing. And the same goes for solar arrays; if the sun fades or night comes, nothing is produced. You may think hydro-electric dams are constant, but they too depend on a good flow of water. In times of drought or climate change, dam flows need to be reduced, sometimes to a trickle.

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But what happens if you integrate these systems?  What happens if you take the wind power excess — say at night — and apply it to water below a dam, pumping it back over the dam to refill the dam lake? You create a huge battery. You can replenish the system.

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Denmark produces almost 100 percent of needed total electricity for that country with wind power. A lot of it is off shore where winds are constant all year long. But when you make 100 percent of your nation’s electricity overall, that does not mean that, at peak times, you don’t need to top it up with conventional power plants. So, what did Denmark do? They put in more wind farms off shore and pass all that electricity to Norway —to replenish Norway’s huge hydroelectric dams. So, when Denmark needs excess power, they throw a switch and take back some of Norway’s hydro power. Anything they do not take back gets sold to Norway. Everyone wins.

The Tennessee Valley authority does this with a mountain lake attached to a nuclear plant. In Wales they do the same. In France they are using wave power in estuaries which replenish dam reserves.

Once you begin to integrate renewable energy sources with existing hydro-electric dams, you create storage of energy profiles across the world. Currently, there are 57,000 dams worldwide. Each of these can become a battery storing half of peak demand in every nation. All we have to do is integrate them.

Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.