AECOM and Canadian energy storage start-up will cut costs by putting power under the pump
Author: Josh Cole
A joint Australian-Canadian project will use compressed air to halve the cost of energy storage and provide the equivalent of a new gas power plant in back-up power.
AECOM’s Australian arm has announced an energy storage venture with Hydrostor, a Canadian energy storage start-up. Their goal is to turn disused mines and other underground cavities into purpose-built chambers of compressed air that will be cheaper than equivalent-sized batteries and not rely on fossil fuels unlike existing natural gas back-up systems.
The system works by using excess electricity to compress air, which can later be released to generate heat and, as a result of that release, electricity. A similar method that uses natural gas exists though Hydrostor claims that their method is superior as it doesn’t use fossil fuels and is potentially cheaper.
One catch is that Hydrostor systems need to be built near a body of water, though this means that they are uniquely suited to act as back-ups for hydroelectric power plants which by their very nature are near large bodies of water.
Hydroelectric power is a form of renewable energy, using running water from dams or rivers to spin turbines that generate electricity, though the power plants have a marked effect on the landscape thanks to the huge earthworks and water re-routing needed to build them.
Another question yet to be answered is how efficient the compressed air system will be in practice – while there is no rule as to how efficient it has to be, 70% efficiency between energy stored and energy released is seen as an important milestone in gauging how effective it will be as a replacement for existing technology.
Earlier versions of Hydrostor’s technology are already in use in Canada, with an operating facility in Toronto and another under construction in Goderich, Ontario. Another facility is planned on the Caribbean island nation of Aruba, which, unlike neighbouring islands, lies outside of ‘Hurricane Alley’ and is capable of greater electrical infrastructure.
While the technology is untested on a large scale in Australia there’s hope that a cheaper solution to storage will succeed in a market that’s known worldwide for its high costs. In the meantime, Australians hoping to cut back on electricity costs will need to rely on consumer-side solutions, such as changing to more efficient appliances, switching off lights and using timers on items that are usually left on overnight.
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