While wind’s stop-and-start intermittency presents major difficulties for its prospects as a major contributor to U.S. energy supply in the near term, electricity-storage breakthroughs offer the possibility that wind might someday play that role (and I’m all for wind, or anything else, that can help out — because we need all the power we can get).
Wednesday’s San Antonio Express-News reports on one potential breakthrough in energy storage:
Engineers at the University of Texas at Austin have announced a breakthrough in technology that could eventually double the capacity to store energy from renewable resources such as wind and solar.
My reaction is, “Great. Stay at it until you figure out how to make it work on a large scale.” Hopefully, this is a step in the right direction toward making wind and solar energy more viable. But we still need to proceed cautiously when it comes to federal energy policy.
George Crabtree, a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, agrees that the research has the potential to double the energy storage of ultracapacitors but said there is a long way to go to fulfill the promise of storing massive amounts of energy from wind or solar farms.
“I think it could be quite significant, but I don’t think I would take it to the level of instating it to a windmill yet,” he said. “That’s still a ways off.”
Hopefully, we will soon be able to store electricity from blowy night winds for use during the daytime doldrums. But just as it is not smart public policy to pass a law mandating CO2 reductions that our current technology cannot produce, it is unwise to mandate high wind-energy contributions when we are not yet able to store electricity on a large scale.
And it wouldn’t be wise for the federal government to bet on this new development with money and mandates, because in so doing they might impede the development of another, superior technology that might only be a few months or years away. The smarter policy is not to rush headlong, but to bring renewables online to the extent that they are technologically and economically sensible.