In the interest of reducing oil and natural- gas consumption in the United States, researchers are looking at the use of storage batteries instead of oil and gas-fueled generators to produce "peak-demand" electricity.
Batteries might be used as "load levelers," augmenting coal and nuclear generating facilities during hours when demand for electricity is at its highest. Then, during "off- peak" hours, the batteries would be recharged for the next peak-demand period.
Currently, "it becomes necessary to use oil and gas driven turbines" to help meet peak demand, says Richard J. Gariboldi, group leader for energy storage research at the Argonne National Laboratory.
"There are estimates that we could save about 1 million barrels of oil a year if 5 percent of all the electricity generated in the US were generated through energy storage," says Jim Birk, manager of batteries for the Electric Power Research Institute in Palo Alto, Calif. He adds that batteries probably could account for just under half of the energy storage techniques that would be used.
These techniques include the use of "pumped storage" at power stations, where surplus power is used in off-peak hours to pump water into reservoirs; in peak hours the water is run through turbines to generate electricity.
One such plant, the world's largest, is located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The $300 million facility includes an artificial reservoir that holds the water an average of 250 feet above Lake Michigan. The facility, jointly owned by two Michigan utilities, can supply more than 15 million kilowatt-hours of power if the stored water is fully discharged.
Obviously this method can be used only where there is sufficient water and storage facilities can be provided. Mr. Gariboldi notes also that there have been environmental objections to building such facilities in some areas.
Thus, he says, "batteries are one of the other leading options."
As researchers envision the system, electricity from the generating station would be converted from alternating current (AC), the kind used in in most homes and industries, to direct current (DC), the kind batteries can store. When called upon during peak demand periods, the batteries would discharge through an inverter, which changes the current back to AC and conditions it so that it can be used in home appliances.
Up to now, much of the research has been aimed at developing a battery cell that has the storage capacity, life span, and low cost that would make it attractive to utilities.
However, contract negotiations are under way for the design and construction of the first demonstration plant, says Bob Merring, the US Department of Energy's project manager for the Storage Battery Electric Energy Demonstration program.
Two Michigan electric cooperatives have been selected to participate in the plant's development. According to Mr. Merring, the 30 kilowatt-hour plant should begin operating in late 1983 or early 1984.
Battle Memorial Laboratories in Columbus, Ohio, is examining the f easibility of using batteries on the consumer side of the meter. The one-year, $190,000 study will cover users from single-family dwellings to industrial facilities, project manager F. Jere Bates says.
EVen if the battery storage method proves effective, its widespread use might not be realized until the end of this century.
"It's hard for me to envasion much of an impact from batteries before the year 2000, though I would like to see some at utilities by the end of the 1980s, " Mr. birk says.