In early 2012 NEMA produced a return on investment (ROI) whitepaper for Smart Grid; a document that was very well-received at the NARUC annual meeting in Washington, D.C. that year. In the whitepaper we cited a number of examples, one of which was a plan filed by the Duluth-based Minnesota Power company to connect a wind farm in North Dakota to a hydroelectric site in Manitoba, Canada. An article about this project recently appeared in the electronic version of Renew Grid magazine http://www.renew-grid.com/e107_plugins/content/content.php?content.10444.
A lot of disucssion surrounding wind and solar generation in the electrical industry is focused on the intermittent nature of renewables. The solution that is offered to overcome this intermittency is to pair the renewable generation source with an energy storage technology. The problem in the past has always been a function of scale, namely that large-scale energy storage is difficult to come by.
The pairing of a wind farm with a hydroelectric facility is a brilliantly elegant solution to this problem. Manitoba Hydro accepts the electricity from the Minnesota Power wind farm where it is conditioned and combined with its own generated power from the hydro plant. Excess electricity is essentially stored by curtailing the output of the hydroelectric plant, and then delivered back to the Minnesota Power service territory when and where it is needed.
If the transmission line described in the Renew Grid article is approved, Minnesota Power's Bison Wind Energy Center will create an interesting case study on the cost effectiveness of the hydro-as-storage solution. If it proves to be successful, the project could open the door for further analysis of wind/hydro or solar/hydro pairings as we seek to derive the maximum value from utility-scale renewable energy installations.