California Needs a Way to Store its Solar and Wind Energy
The Los Angeles Dept of Water and Power is proposing to turn the Hoover Dam into a giant battery that would act as storage for locally-produced wind and solar energy, to the tune of $3 billion. The New York Times first reported the idea, outlining the current problem with LA’s renewable sources. Though plentiful in sunny and windy California, the energy from the many wind and solar farms can’t be stored for use, and the over-abundance at certain times causes the utility to have to burn it off or pay other cities to use it to avoid overwhelming the system and causing blackouts.
Could it Work?
This idea — pumped storage — is not new. Other pumped storage solutions are already in use in the US and around the world. This would work a little differently: the proposal suggests using the existing Hoover Dam (currently only operating at 20% capacity) and adding new pumps and pipes 20 miles downstream to pump water from a reservoir to the upstream side of the dam and managing the flow to maximize energy output from the Dam. The LADWP has been hinting at this idea for a few years, and there are very few details published about it so far, but both Quartz and the World Economic Forum have shared videos about the fascinating possibility. That’s what got our attention — the possibility. Maybe this idea will be dead in the water (mind the pun), because there are many issues to solve even beyond feasibility of whether the Colorado River has the capacity to support this: concerns about how the plan would affect cities and towns in the tourism-driven region downstream (potential of either flooding towns or drying the river up), likely impact on the environment and delicate ecological balance, sticky rights and political issues around this river, and so much more. But for now, let’s just appreciate the potential.