Compressed Air Storage Can Improve Renewable Energy

Wind turbines

Energy production systems must balance consumer supply and demand to ensure consistent delivery. Systems that rely on renewable energy sources may struggle to match demand during peak usage periods, especially if this occurs at times when renewable resources, such as wind, solar, or water in dams, aren’t readily available.

Compressed air systems allow production facilities to store unused energy during periods of lower demand. In this system, excess electricity compresses air into underground storage caverns.

When demand is higher than what production can support, the air is channeled into a combustion turbine. Natural gas ignites the air and powers the turbine, which boosts available energy supplies when they’re most needed. Compressed air systems allow electricity facilities to quickly increase production during peak-usage periods.

Compressed Air Storage Supports Renewable Energy

Seasonal availability is an issue for renewable energy systems. During the winter months, demand for electricity is high during a period when supplies from wind and solar sources are at their lowest. This imbalance causes renewable energy power systems to rely more on fossil fuel systems for backup. 

However, some important studies have found that successful use of compressed air batteries can mitigate the risk of under-resourced renewable energy grids.

Researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde in Scotland are collaborating to develop storage solutions that use natural saline aquifers to house excess energy. These large reserves of compressed air could be used to power generators during months when production fails to meet demand. For a minimal investment in fossil fuels to catalyze the energy production process, production plants can increase usable current during winter months.

Additionally, engineers from the University of Perugia in Italy and the TU Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands are working on the same problem at a smaller scale. In an effort to make solar power a more reasonable option for smaller spaces and buildings with unique architecture, researchers used compressed air storage to provide continuous power to historic buildings in the European Union.

Compressed air systems make renewable energy a more reliable option for large energy producers and private property owners. Once this technology is perfected, we could see widespread adoption of renewable energy as it becomes less reliant on the whims of nature to power it.

Practical Applications for Compressed Air Storage

Compressed air systems give production plants a high degree of control over output. This ability offers important benefits for facilities that rely on renewable energy sources, including:

  • Price arbitrage — During times of high production and low demand, producers can store unused energy and resell it at higher prices when the circumstances reverse
  • Better utilization — Compressed air systems capture energy that is normally lost during production, which increases efficiency and overall yield
  • Improved integration of renewable energy sources — Hybrid energy systems that use both renewable and traditional power sources integrate more effectively with compressed air storage
  • Increased stabilization of conventional systems — With a compressed air storage system, conventional electrical systems are less vulnerable to outages and sudden spikes in demand
  • Black-start services — After a shutdown, compressed air systems facilitate the process of restoring operations
  • Provision of ancillary services — Compressed air systems support synchronized regulation, MVAR generation, and spinning reserves

Production facilities that incorporate compressed air storage provide flexible service and value to their clients.

Compressed Air Storage Supports Widespread Adoption of Renewable Energy Systems

Energy production systems that use solar, wind, hydroelectric, or natural gas as their primary fuel can improve their operations with compressed air storage. Research supports the potential for this technology to improve the use of renewable energy for businesses, municipalities, and private property owners. Even production systems powered by fossil fuels can increase efficiency and output with this technology.

Compressed air storage also allows plants to control production in ways that increase profits, stabilize and protect delivery, and improve overall output. Compressed air systems solve many of the problems that prevent the widespread adoption of renewable energy systems around the world, making the transition to fully renewable energy resources closer than ever before.

Image Credit: Yerbolat Shadrakhov / Shutterstock.com

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