One of the major roadblocks to going full renewable on the world’s electric grids is the storage problem. Intermittent renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar, only provide grid power some of the time, for example when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.
Batteries can help, such as those provided by Tesla or Sonnen (acquired by Shell this year). But, batteries, too, have limitations. As Logan Goldie-Scot, head of Energy Storage at BloombergNEF, told me recently, today’s lithium-ion batteries are typically good for only about four hours of power before they become cost-prohibitive. That duration is inching up into the six-hour range, says Goldie-Scot, but that that’s still not going to get you through the night.
However, A group of storage startups I profiled in Bloomberg Businessweek say they have solutions for long-duration, cost-effective grid energy storage. One of those, London-based Highview Power, has a system that uses off-the-shelf industrial components and can go anywhere it’s needed and scaled to any size. That could turn out to be a game-changer for grid storage.
Highview’s cryogenic battery uses grid power and industrial refrigerators to chill air to the point of liquefaction. The stored air sits in standard insulated tanks until power is needed, when it’s released to expand and drive ordinary turbine generators. “Instead of steam, you are using air,” CEO Javier Cavada explained to me.
He also compared the system to pumped hydro, an energy storage system that pumps water uphill and lets it cascade down again to drive turbines. The difference here, Cavada says, is you don’t need a hill, and you don’t need as much space since the system compresses the air as well as chills it. That’s why he calls it pumped hydro in a suitcase.
Cavada says Highview’s cryogenic battery can supply power to the grid for 12 hours or more at a time, taking it well beyond the current capacity of lithium-ion batteries.
The company has five plants in operation in the U.K. with deals in the works for more, including a U.S. wind farm project set to go online in 2022.
BloombergNEF predicts in a report released in July that wind and solar energy will account for nearly 40% of grid electricity by 2040, a big boost from the 7% they make up today. The report’s authors attribute the uptick in part to the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries. Could alternatives such as Highview’s cryobatteries get us there faster?
Read more about Highview Power in my article for Eniday at https://www.eniday.com/en/technology_en/cryogenic-battery-new-kind-energy-storage/.