Bonneville Power Administration has been struggling to find ways to store the growing supply of wind power coming onto the grid so people can use it when they need it and not just when the wind is blowing.

Power system regulators use the term “wind integration” to describe this dilemma. And BPA’s not not the only one wrestling with it.

But next month, 100 homeowners in Mason County will help out by storing excess wind power in their hot water heaters. It’s a pilot project BPA says could help balance out the fluctuations in wind power supply.

The project involves installing a device in 100 hot water heaters that turns them off when there is less wind and turns the heaters back on when there is excess wind. One of the ways BPA currently deals with oversupply of wind power is to cut back on hydropower generation at the dams. With enough of these “storage units” in place, though, the hydro system won’t need to pick up as much slack.

When consumers voluntarily allow their water heaters, or other electricity usage, to be adjusted when the power system is stressed, BPA calls it “demand response.” As more and more wind farms come online, Northwesterners may be hearing more about these types of programs.

Demand response won’t integrate wind energy into the power system all by itself, but BPA says it will offset some of the need to adjust the rest of the power supply when the wind picks up.

“Not all demand response load can be used to respond to the variation in wind’s output, ” said Ken Corum, senior economist for the Council. “But appliances like water heaters and space heaters, or cold storage plants have the ability to absorb that energy when it needs to go somewhere.

Two years ago, there was very little going on in this area. The growth in wind power development in the region has definitely heightened the interest in demand response as a possible tool to make wind work in our system.

And, if these pilot projects prove successful, it should also help to lower the cost of integrating renewable resources into the power system.”