A growing wind farm in Alaska looks to batteries

While wind power is one of the cheapest forms of clean power, it’s also one of the most fickle, and to combat that problem, utilities are experimenting with energy storage, and in particular batteries. On Tuesday Alaskan utility Kodiak Electric Association (KEA) announced that it plans to install a 3 MW battery farm and management system made by Xtreme Power next to its large wind farm.
Kodiak Electric Association built the sizable Pillar Mountain Wind Project in 2009, and at 4.5 MW it currently provides about 10 percent of the utility’s power generation needs. But the utility, which operates its own stand alone grid, plans to expand the wind project to 9 MW, and was worried about grid instability at that scale, with the fluctuating wind climate in its area. Eventually KEA is aiming for 95 percent clean power by 2020 and plans the have Xtreme Power’s battery system up and running by the end of the year.
Xtreme Power is a 8-year-old company with a plan to build large battery farms connected to clean power projects, and then supply its management system to control the storage use. The idea is that when variable solar and wind die down, or fluctuate too high, the battery system can rapidly and dynamically store or release the energy when needed to smooth out the grid. One of Xtreme’s biggest contracts is to build a 10 MW storage system meant to back up a 30 MW wind farm planned for the Hawaiian island of Oahu.
Xtreme describes its PowerCell battery chemistry as a “chemical capacitor” that it says can beat lithium ion batteries in terms of energy storage, efficiency, cycle life and cost. The technology was born out of a 1990?s joint venture between Ford Aerospace and defense contractor Tracor that was shelved after its target market — California’s zero-emissions vehicle fleet — collapsed in the wake of the state’s decision to back off its ZEV mandate.
Xtreme bought the technology in 2004 and put its first 500-kilowatt PowerCell in place at the South Pole Telescope in 2007. Since then, it has also tested a 1.5 MW PowerCell at another 30 MW wind project on the island of Maui, and has been working with the transmission hub project called Tres Amigas.
Xtreme has been quiet on how much its battery tech costs, but Sam Jaffe, analyst at IDC Energy Insights, told us a few years back that Xtreme has been targeting around $500 per kilowatt-hour as a profitable price point for grid storage systems. Xtreme says it has already installed 22 MW of batteries and its management system, and plans another 55 MW by the end of the year.
Xtreme Power is backed by SAIL Ventures, Bessemer Venture Partners, the venture arm of Dow, Fluor, Dominion Power, Spring Ventures, BP, Posco, and Skylake Incuvest.