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By Cyrus Moulton
WORCESTER – Solar and wind work great as renewable energy sources – when the sun shines and the wind blows.
But supporters of an energy storage project unveiled Thursday at Holy Name High School said it may be a solution to this conundrum.
“This solves this problem: We can use solar energy at night and wind energy in the doldrums,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a founding board member of Vionx Energy, which is a partner in the project.
The $12.5 million project is a partnership among National Grid, Vionx, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High School, with $6 million in support from the U.S. Department of Energy.
The project features a multi-hour, battery-based 500-kilowatt energy storage system that will capture and store for later use the power generated by the 600-kilowatt wind turbine installed at Holy Name in 2008.
The containerized vanadium redox flow battery system, which looks like eight tractor-trailer containers stacked neatly in a row of four located at the base of the 242-foot-tall turbine, is able to power 500 homes and can run for six hours continuously, according to National Grid.
Thus, it can take energy generated by the wind turbine and store it for later use – for instance, when the wind stops blowing or electricity demands increase and power would be more expensive to buy. This reduces the need for more expensive oil-fired generation during peak demand periods, improves the quality and reliability of the power grid, and increases the use of renewable energy, according to National Grid.
“Storage is really the only technology to take energy when it is low-cost, low-demand, and store it for when there is high demand and high cost,” said Judith Judson, commissioner of the Mass Department of Energy Resources. “Storage has an opportunity to be a game changer.”
WPI Director of Sustainability John Orr agreed, calling energy storage “The holy grail of clean energy generation.”
National Grid will operate and monitor the energy storage system for two years and perform tests on the system. It will investigate such issues as how much energy is needed in the battery to provide a base load of energy and how to control that energy, and whether using the battery at certain times could reduce peak demand for the school.
Meanwhile, Holy Name will collect data on wind production, how many kilowatt-hours are stored in the battery system, and the amount of time that the batteries can hold electricity, according to Holy Name Headmaster Ed Reynolds.
“It’s the world’s biggest science experiment,” Mr. Reynolds said. “It’s an authentic STEM experience and one that no other school can offer. It’s a real-world analytical study of an emerging technology.”
But beyond being economical – the wind turbine reduced Holy Name’s electricity bills from $200,000 a year to $40,000 a year, Mr. Reynolds said — and an educational opportunity, speakers said it is a moral obligation to pursue clean energy.
“Clean energy will change the world and make it a more Christian place,” Mr. Reynolds said, adding that clean energy was part of stewardship of the earth.
Mr. Kennedy agreed, saying our “addiction to oil” leads the United States to support corrupt regimes and wage wars.
“It is an issue of prosperity, jobs, and quality of life, but it is overall a moral issue,” Mr. Kennedy said.
He compared the clean energy revolution to the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, noting that slaves were the “free energy” on which that economy once depended. When slavery ended, the British Industrial Revolution created new energy forms and great wealth, and he said that the same could happen now, perhaps starting from a hillside in Worcester.
“This is a template for our country,” Mr. Kennedy said. “A model for the rest of the world.”