A few developments of interest on the renewables front this month: first of all, engineers at Highview Power Storage demonstrated their long-awaited and smaller-scale Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) technology. Then, the Co-operative edged closer to its aim of bringing a clean energy revolution to communities across the UK by pledging funding and support and Tim Yeo, chairman of the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee, called on the Government to work towards reinstating the UK’s pole position as an exporter of wave and tidal power.
Is liquid air storage the answer to unreliable wind energy?
Earlier this month, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (Imeche) became the platform for the launch of the UK’s first demonstrable LAES technology, hailed as the answer to the highlighted weaknesses of wind energy. The fact that turbines produce too much energy when there is heavy much wind and not enough on still days renders them highly inefficient and expensive to operate. Wind farm producers are compensated for switching off turbines in high wind conditions and this is said to have cost the UK consumer £24 million in 2011.
How the technology works is that LAES takes electricity from the grid at peak times, such as on windy days, and uses it to cool air until it liquefies at 196 degrees Celsius. The liquid air is then stored, cheaply and safely, under pressure until it is needed and when brought back to normal temperature it turns back into gas, expands by 700 times and is rushed through a turbine. This then creates electricity, which can be fed into the grid.
UK company Highview Power Storage has been developing the technology in association with Imeche for the past five years and recently completed a successful year-long pilot – the first LAES plant in the world – connected to the National Grid and hosted by Scottish and Southern Energy in Slough, Berkshire, UK.
The energy storage market is said to be worth some $100 billion over the next ten years and could create 100,000 jobs.
Other companies have focused on Battery energy storage using Lithium Ion batteries, which although quick and viable, have been found to be limited and unable to scale to the degree required. Other technologies such as pumped hydro need green belt space and billions of litres of water.
Co-op gives to community renewable energy projects
The Co-operative has pledged £1 million to renewable energy projects run by local communities.
The Community Energy Challenge is an initiative that has set out to summon local community energy co-operatives to come up with ideas for renewable generation. It will offer six to eight of the most ambitious finance and support to get them off the ground.
UK could be the world-leading exporter of wave and tidal power
So say MPs on the Commons’ Energy and Climate Change Committee. It makes sense, as we are and island nation, that the UK could take the lead when it comes to exploiting the power of the sea but is being number one in the world enough of an incentive to get Government and industry backing?
Earlier this month, the Government was called to increase its support for wave and tidal power in a new report from MPs warning that the country is at risk of repeating mistakes, which allowed it to lose its early lead in the development of the wind power industry.
Currently, seven out of eight full-scale prototype marine energy installations worldwide are in UK waters, making us the current world leader in the development of wave and tidal energy technologies.
Marine power could provide as much as 27GW of capacity in the UK by 2050.
An over cautious approach by the Government, say MPs, may allow other, less risk averse countries to steal the UK’s lead. The industry is worried that Government plans for subsidies for marine and tidal only extend to 2017, thus leaving them vulnerable in the future.
According to The Carbon Trust, the first commercial wave farms are likely to deliver energy costing 38-48p/kWh and the first tidal farms 29-33p/kWh, which will require a subsidy if anyone is to be persuaded to pay the premium tariff required to fund investment payback. Obviously, costs will fall as the technology matures but even so, at those prices it will take a while for this to happen.
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