To follow on recent research, Idaho National Laboratory (INL) has announced it is looking for field demonstration partners to help investigate how regional hydropower operators can integrate industrial-scale energy storage to make plants capable of providing local emergency power during blackouts.
INL stated it conducted its first field demonstration for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office in April 2021 with Idaho Falls Power. The research team is now soliciting proposals from utilities around the United States.
Under normal conditions, plants connected to a grid help each other as needed through a process called balancing. During a regional blackout, however, it is advantageous to have a power plant switched to “islanded” mode to serve only critical customers nearby. This is done with a “black start” — restoring local power, independent of the grid, to emergency services like hospitals, fire stations and police, INL described.
Black starting and islanding small hydropower plants has proved difficult because they are slow to respond to changes in demand and need assistance smoothing out the sharp spikes and dips that typically occur when restarting a grid. To get around this, INL has developed a system that leverages ultracapacitors. In the 2021 field demonstration, INL and Idaho Falls Power used the city’s five small hydroelectric plants on the Snake River; the tests showed the ultracapacitors would work as expected when connected to the hydroelectric plants.
“It opens up the possibilities for a lot of communities that have small hydropower plants like ours,” said Ben Jenkins, who managed the project for Idaho Falls Power, in a statement. “It helps Idaho Falls, but it could have a much broader impact across the national grid.”
In its call for new partners, INL asks applicants about their generation assets and events that have motivated them to investigate emergency power generation capabilities. Interested parties are encouraged complete the partnership call form. Forms must be completed by May 2. Potential partners can also learn more by contacting [email protected]