Avista testing batteries that store wind power, solar energy

Avista Corp. will use a $3.2 million state grant to test how effectively large batteries store energy from wind power, solar energy and other renewable sources.

The three-year demonstration will occur at a Pullman substation, with a battery-storage system built by UniEnergy Technologies of Mukilteo, Washington.

The battery system should be able to store enough electricity to power 100 to 120 homes for up to three hours. If the project is successful, Avista could ramp up the number of batteries in use, said Laurine Jue, a company spokeswoman.

Wind turbines and solar panels are intermittent energy sources, producing electricity only when the wind blows and the sun shines. Those kilowatts have to be used immediately, and the inability to store that electricity until customers need it has been one of the drawbacks of renewables for utilities, said Don Kopczynski, Avista’s vice president of energy.

“We believe that battery storage could be the missing piece in this puzzle,” he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Department of Commerce announced the grant to Avista on Tuesday as part of $14 million in funds to help integrate renewable energy into the state’s electrical grid. Puget Sound Energy and Snohomish County Public Utility District also were recipients of matching grants. The grant money comes from the governor’s new Clean Energy Fund.

Avista will contribute slightly more than the value of the grant to the battery testing project, Kopczynski said. The battery will arrive in Pullman before the end of the year. After design work and preliminary tests, full-scale testing will begin in about 18 months.

Researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, where the battery technology was developed, will work with Avista on the project, analyzing data from the tests.