A UK energy group is hoping to raise £400 million in a bid to build a commercial-scale liquid air energy storage (LEAS) plant in a world-first that could supply thousands of homes with clean electricity. Britain and much of Europe is desperately trying to rely less on fossil fuels due to the volatile global markets and subsequent increased wholesale cost. But with homegrown clean energy sources being pinpointed as a vital alternative, a plant of this scale could just be what the country needs as it races to meet net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Highview Power has plans to help the UK accelerate the rollout of clean energy, and make it more reliable, by building a large-scale energy storage plant in Manchester by 2024.
Energy storage is crucial in helping to stabilise the energy grid and provide supplies in times of need. Renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are useful in regards to this as their intermittent nature means they can produce energy even when it is not needed.
For instance, turbines will produce high amounts of energy during extended periods of high wind, which generates excess amounts of energy.
Rupert Pearce, Highview Power’s chief executive, told the Financial Times: “If the wind blows and the demand isn’t there, then it can’t go anywhere. We have a structural necessity to bring in flexible demand for a long period of time.”
Storage facilities then allow this excess energy to be stored and then used in times of need. This year, Britain generated nearly 39 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in the second quarter, up from 11 percent a decade ago.
Highview Power is hoping to spend £250million to build a storage plant in Carrington that has a 30megawatts capacity, able to store 300megawatt hours of electricity, enough to supply 600,000 homes with clean power for an hour.
Mr Pearce said: “We are raising a significant amount of money for the next two or three years. We’re looking for £400milion to take us through the next phase.”
Energy fears this winter have been made worse by the prospect of the UK being strapped for imports due to supply issues in Europe. The reliance on imports has led to the National Grid detailing a three-hour blackout plan in a “worst case scenario”.
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While Highview Power’s storage site won’t be built in time to stave off blackouts this winter, it may be able to provide assistance in the coming years.
Storage plants can hold power for long periods of time and are capable of providing a stable supply of energy similar to coal and gas fossil plants.
Anthony Price, managing director of energy storage consultancy Swanbarton, is quoted as saying: “We need big electricity warehouses — imagine storing a day’s worth of solar-generated electricity — and we also need big doors on the warehouse, so we can meet those peak demands. Liquid air energy storage fits into that category.”
LAES works by cooling and compressing air into a liquid form which gets stored at low pressure in insulated tanks. The iquid air then gets sent through heat exchangers, creating high-pressure gas that can power turbines, generating electricity when required.
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Back in February, the Government announced a £7million fund to help turbocharge UK projects that are developing energy storage technologies.
The then Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Hands said: “Driving forward energy storage technologies will be vital in our transition towards cheap, clean and secure renewable energy.
“It will allow us to extract the full benefit from our home-grown renewable energy sources, drive down costs and end our reliance on volatile and expensive fossil fuels.
“Through this competition we are making sure the country’s most innovative scientists and thinkers have our backing to make this ambition a reality.