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Company deploys old oil and gas equipment to solve modern energy storage problem: 'It's a very simple system'

Better storage will enable a faster transition of our energy system to cleaner power generation.

Better storage will enable a faster transition of our energy system to cleaner power generation.

Photo Credit: Hydrostor

An innovation coming out of Toronto that stores energy with air, water, and gravity is ready for rollout. 

Inside Climate News interviewed Hydrostor CEO Curtis VanWalleghem, who provided an update on next steps for the unique concept. If successful, it would be a huge boon for efforts to save intermittent, renewable energy from the sun, wind, and waves for later use. 

He characterized the technique, called compressed air energy storage, as "simple." Better yet, it reuses infrastructure from the fossil fuel industry and can store electricity for up to eight hours. 

"It's a very simple system that just uses a hole in rock [plus] air and water," he said in the ICN story. "And then the equipment is all from the oil and gas industry, so you don't need new manufacturing or anything." 

It works by using surplus grid power, or renewable energy, to energize a compressor that makes heated compressed air. The heat is pulled from the air and saved in a thermal storage tank to be used later. Cooler compressed air is sent to an underground rock cavern, which among other things, helps to maintain pressure in the system. Water is pushed to an above-ground reservoir. This part is reminiscent of water battery concepts in that H2O and gravity are used to create electricity by powering a turbine. 

Hydrostor releases the water back below ground when energy is needed, and the air is pushed to the surface where it meets back up with the stored heat, expands, and moves through a turbine to make power, all per company descriptions and graphics. 

While VanWalleghem describes the setup as straightforward, it appears to be a fairly involved process that takes years to prepare. Proposed plants are set to be built in Australia and California in the coming years. Construction Down Under is scheduled to start this year, with a five-decade lifespan. The West Coast operation is planned to be running by 2030, with a $1.5 billion price tag, all according to ICN. 

Other energy storage innovators are at work on interesting projects, too, including rooftop ice-based contraptions that are meant to better cool buildings. Tesla Megapacks are a battery option already in operation. 

Hydrostor's promised eight or more hours of storage time sets it apart from most of the other options. Long-term storage is considered a priority by the U.S. government, which has marked it as one of its Earthshot initiatives, with results targeted by the end of the decade. 

Better storage will enable a faster transition of our energy system to cleaner power generation. If Hydrostor can save morning sun ray energy to power evening air conditioning needs, it could help to reduce peak demand spikes that sometimes cause outages. 

Significant pollution would also be avoided by using cleaner energy, resulting in healthier air

ICN reports that Hydrostor has successfully operated a smaller plant in Canada since 2019. It can store power for six hours. Other iterations of the concept have also been used elsewhere. 

Now, VanWalleghem and his team will try to perfect and scale the method for even greater results. 

"I'll be watching to see whether Hydrostor is able to begin construction on schedule in Australia and whether it can navigate the regulatory approval process for the plant in California," ICN's  Dan Gearino wrote

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