North West company launches pioneering ‘liquid air’ energy storage plant

Highview Power has launched a grid-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, thought to be the first of its kind.

The 5MW facility opened yesterday near Bury, Greater Manchester. The owners claim that with the right funding and support, the system can be up-scaled to hundreds of megawatts in the future.

Supply and demand

Storing electrical energy has been a challenge for engineers for as long as we’ve been using electricity – generally speaking we have to generate electricity as and when we need it, which means that power stations and the national grid have to perform a careful balancing act to make sure demand is always met.

This presents a particular challenge for renewable energy sources – solar power for example can only be generated in during daylight hours, but most demand happens in the evening.

This new system takes excess electricity and uses it to cool and compress air into a liquid state. The liquefied air can be stored indefinitely in large metal tanks. Then, when demand is higher, the liquid air is allowed to heat-up and expands back into a gas, driving turbines and generating electricity. No fuel needs to be burned and no carbon is released into the atmosphere.

This isn’t the first attempt to effectively store electrical energy. Some companies do use large lithium-ion batteries, but they degrade over time and are only suitable for storing energy for a few hours. Pumped-storage hydroelectricity is another popular solution, using excess power to pump water up a hill and releasing it to generate hydro-electricity when the demand is present.

Government support

The current plant has the capacity to power 5,000 average size homes for around three hours. Highview have their sights set higher, but they need the support & cooperation of the government and other infrastructure partners.

Highview Power CEO Gareth Brett said, “Support from Government, our partners and our supply chain, has enabled Highview Power to successfully design and build the world’s first grid-scale LAES plant here in the UK. The plant is the only large scale, true long-duration, locatable energy storage technology available today, at acceptable cost. The adoption of LAES technology is now underway, and discussions are progressing with utilities around the world who see the opportunity for LAES to support the transition to a low-carbon world.”

He continued… “the market opportunity for LAES technology is exciting – we estimate that 60% of the global energy storage market comprises long-duration, grid connected storage and that our LAES technology is ready to meet almost half of this (45%).”

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