The Northwest is blessed with comparatively large amounts of energy storage in the form of water in reservoirs behind dams in the Columbia River drainage basin. That storage is leveraged to good purpose today to balance the variability of wind and solar on the system, but also to supply power during periods of extended droughts that may last up to nearly four years. It is the energy storage necessary to provide reliable service from the variable renewable resource that is the Columbia River Power System.
Going further, to store all of the energy needed to bridge extended wind and solar “droughts” when we move to 100% renewable energy systems will be beyond the capability of the hydro system, especially during drought years.
Moreover, the region already experiences times when the production of energy from hydro, wind, and solar exceeds the region’s demand for power and the system’s ability to store it. At those times, the energy is merely turned away—power that has no incremental cost of production is already being wasted for lack of storage and demand. These super-surpluses of low-cost, low-carbon electricity will only increase as we build out the fleet of wind and solar plants on the way to establishing a zero-carbon grid. Creating new markets for electricity can reduce the amount of energy we throw away, and use it to create fuels to displace use of fossil fuels in other parts of the energy economy.