Energy Storage Projects Surge Ahead

Kate Sykes

Most users give little thought to the electricity grid powering their day-to-day lives. They switch on the lights, and the power’s always there--until, thanks to overly taxed grids, it isn’t. The 2003 blackout in the northeastern United States cost US$6 billion. India’s 2012 power outage, the largest in history, left 10 percent of the world’s population in the dark.

Recent projects aim to provide a solution by treating energy less like a bottomless ATM and more like a savings account--storing it when we don’t need it so we can spend it when we do.

Among the most promising technologies is compressed air energy storage (CAES). The process compresses air when power is plentiful and then uses it to run turbines during peak demand periods. Utility provider Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in San Francisco, California, USA, driven by the state’s aggressive renewable-energy goals, is pursuing an ongoing project to determine the feasibility and cost of using depleted natural gas reservoirs as underground storage areas for compressed air.

Until now, CAES has only used nonporous rock formations such as abandoned salt mines, rendering the location of facilities entirely dependent upon local geology. Using porous formations could expand the number of possible CAES sites. “These reservoirs have held natural gas for millions…

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