Industrial-scale power storage and waste heat

There will, eventually, be a giant wind farm above my house. I say eventually because though Switzerland is not immune from NIMBYism, our court system deals efficiently enough with oppositions so that if something is allowed by law (zoning laws, eco-protection laws, etc) then it does go through. The opposition (and there’s always opposition) does a few court challenges, it goes up a couple layers, sometimes to the supreme court, and the court rather quickly says, “It’s legal, shut up. If you don’t like it, change the laws, don’t come begging us to do so.”

The opposition have two complaints. They choose which one to talk about depending on the context. If they are going for “shock and awe” they use Photoshopped pictures to show how “ugly” the windmills will be. I’m suspicious of their Photoshopping, because though I think the relative sizes are correct, I don’t think the visibility (i.e. brightness of the windmills themselves and the reduction in visibility due to natural haze) in their pictures is correct. Whatever, it’s true, they are giant industrial installations in areas previously used only for grazing and milking cows. But we should recall that raising and milking cows it itself a giant industrial operation with a twice-daily milk run with a diesel-powered truck through this scenic wonderland. Some of the milking barns even run off of polluting diesel generators…

If you tell them, “I don’t mind the windmills, they look like progress to me” (and I have!), then the opposition falls back onto their second line of defense. They say, “windmills do not produce energy when it is needed, so they can’t replace nuclear”.

So, first, that’s a straw-man. No one is talking about nuclear here; if we were we wouldn’t agree anyway because I’m pro-nuclear. I consider nuclear power to be green energy (and the founder of Greenpeace does as well). What I’m interested in is eliminating fossil fuels from electrical generation, and from transport use.

The Tesla battery technology for utilities is the missing part of the equation (update July 2017: I’ve just found out that Eaton, in my backyard at Le Lieu, make them too). They shift energy from the peak generation time to the time when the energy is needed, making it possible for windmills and solar to contribute to the baseline load that existing dirty electric plants provide. But they have so far been tested in giant, ugly, industrial installations, which even I would not like to see here in my backyard.

So that got me thinking about how the Mollendruz windmills could be hooked up to batteries.

Batteries heat up when they are charged, and part of what’s special about Tesla’s innovations is to integrate cooling and fire protection into the heart of their battery packs. So a utility-scale battery installation will create utility-scale waste heat. In the current utility scale batteries, this is appears to be dumped into the atmosphere. But remote heating is a mature and well respected technology in Switzerland. Wouldn’t it be interesting to put that waste heat to use heating our schools and government buildings?

I don’t know how near batteries need to be to windmills to be efficient. Windmills generate alternating current, because they are a rotative power source. And AC travels at lower loss than DC. So it seems that putting the batteries where the heat is needed would be ok.

But the batteries are still ugly. What can we do about that? If you are harvesting the heat from them, and they are already engineered to be installed into moving cars and houses, the utility scale batteries can probably be installed indoors. In Switzerland, when we need to put things indoors and we want the land to remain pretty, we put them underground. Near the Col du Mollendruz there’s an old military fort called Petra Felix. I wonder if there’s enough room inside of it to hold the batteries?

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