Energy | Environment | Ecotrope

Solar-Powered Kettle Chips Will Help Test Renewable Energy Batteries In Salem

Ecotrope | May 31, 2013 11:08 a.m. | Updated: June 3, 2013 12:32 p.m.

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The Salem Smart Power Center opens today with the battery power of 1,440 electric cars. A room full of batteries, shown here, will be used to store renewable energy when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining so it can be used later when power is in short supply.

The Salem Smart Power Center opens today with the battery power of 1,440 electric cars. A room full of batteries, shown here, will be used to store renewable energy when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining so it can be used later when power is in short supply.

Courtesy of Portland General Electric

Kettle Brand has enough solar panels on the roof of its Salem plant to make 250,000 bags of Kettle Chips. But they only work when the sun is out.

When clouds block the sun from reaching solar panels, the renewable power generation at the Kettle Chips plant takes a dive.

A new smart grid project launching today in Salem is aiming to fill the gaps in solar power at the Kettle Chips plant with renewable energy stored in a room full of lithium ion batteries. The batteries are housed in a new facility called the Salem Smart Power Center, which can store up to 5 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 3,500 homes. It’s a breakthrough in smart grid technology, though it’s just starting up as a demonstration project.

“This is the first of its kind in the nation and in the industry,” said Kevin Whitener, smart grid project manager for Portland General Electric. “We’re used to calling upon energy sources when we need them, but sun and wind aren’t great for that. With this project, we can take that sun and wind energy and store it so it can be available when our customers want to use it.”

The Kettle Foods potato chip factory in Salem has 616 solar panels on its roof, but the amount of power they produce fluctuates with the availability of the sun.

The Kettle Foods potato chip factory in Salem has 616 solar panels on its roof, but the amount of power they produce fluctuates with the availability of the sun.

Courtesy of Kettle Foods

PGE’s Salem Smart Power Center holds promise for resolving the Northwest springtime power conflicts between wind and hydropower, when dams are wind farms together produce more power than the region needs. It could also store wind power generated at night, when power demand is low, and release it during the day when power use peaks. Long term, it could help wind and solar power compete with other sources of electricity that offer a steadier, more reliable source of power.

Battery storage could save utilities money at times when they would otherwise have to shut down wind turbines, sell renewable power at a discount when it’s not needed or buy extra power to meet high electricity demand, Whitener said. Those savings, and any income from selling stored power at a higher price when it’s most needed could justify the $23 million cost of building the storage facility.

PGE will be working with the Kettle Chips plant to test whether battery power can fill in for solar panels when the sun isn’t shining.

The main production facility for Kettle Chips is in Salem.

The main production facility for Kettle Chips is in Salem.

buyalex/Flickr

Kettle Brand has had a 114 kilowatt solar array on the roof of its potato chip plant since 2003. You can see how the power supply from the plant’s 616 solar panels fluctuates in the graphs generated by this online monitor.

The solar signal from those panels will tell the Salem Smart Power Center when to release electricity from its batteries to make up for dips in solar supply.

“The output from that system is simply coming and going as the sun rises and sets or the clouds pass over the factory,” said Whitener. “The solar output from that system is not always 114 kilowatts. It varies all over the place – from zero up to 114 kilowatts.

“We can have a bright sunny day but you can still get that one cloud that passes overhead and causes that power drops down to zero in a matter of seconds. What do you do with those resources that come and go in a one-second time frame? That’s what our energy storage facility can do. As solar output drops down for some random period of time, we can fill in that gap. It smooths out the curve and makes it look like it was steady.”

The Smart Power Center will also work with the state of Oregon to use batteries to keep electricity flowing during power outages, with help from the state’s back-up generators.

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