Renewable Energy Will Europe's first cryogenic storage plant provide a solution for storing renewable energy?

| Author / Editor: Luke James / Erika Granath

At a decommissioned thermal power station in northern England, a cryogenic energy storage plant is scheduled to be built. But will this provide a solution for the storage of renewable energy?

Highview Power, a leader in long-duration energy storage solutions, has announced plans to build the world’s first cryogenic (liquid-air) energy storage facility in the North of England
Highview Power, a leader in long-duration energy storage solutions, has announced plans to build the world’s first cryogenic (liquid-air) energy storage facility in the North of England
(Source: Highview Power Storage)

Although it is currently possible to couple together renewable energy generation and energy storage, it is an area that is massively underdeveloped. And of the total amount of renewable energy generated by the likes of solar and wind, only a tiny percentage is stored for use later, with the cost of its storage representing the largest barrier to renewable energy storage.

Now Highview Power, a leader in long-duration energy storage solutions, has announced plans to build the world’s first cryogenic (liquid-air) energy storage facility in the North of England.

A 50Mw, 250Mwh cryobattery plant

The 50MW, 250MWh plant will use a decommissioned thermal power plant to produce a large-scale storage facility that could provide a solution to the challenge of storing renewable energy.

The project will use Highview’s proprietary cryobattery technology that utilizes renewable energy to chill air down to −196°C before it is transformed into a liquid and stored in large metal tanks. This liquid can then be turned back into a gas when energy levels are low, rotating a turbine to generate more electricity without the need for combustion. Unlike lithium-ion batteries which can only store energy for a relatively short period of time, Highview’s cryobattery IP is capable of storing renewable energy for weeks or even months.

At maximum scale, the cryobattery has a capacity of 50Mw or 250Mwh over a five-hour release time. It is also cost-effective, with an operating cost of £110 per Mwh of electricity. If Highview’s project is a success and the technology proceeds past its initial testing and prototyping stages, this low operating cost will make it one of the cheapest energy storage solutions available on the market today.

Highview’s project is earmarked to help address major issues faced by the UK power grid, such as intermittent power provided by renewable sources, so that the country can move closer to its goal of decarbonization.

Why batteries?

Much like the rest of Europe, the UK has a long-term decarbonization goal for industry, power, heat, and transport. Reaching this goal is no easy feat, however. To support a low-carbon future where power systems are fed almost entirely by renewable energy, large-scale and long-duration energy storage is needed.

However, the storage of renewable energies presents a substantial challenge, and there is a vast range of research fields covering everything from solar to wind and geothermal to biomass. Among these research areas are potential solutions such as thermal storage systems, mechanical storage systems, electromagnetic storage systems, and electromechanical storage systems.

Despite this, batteries represent the main focus of research and investment into renewable energy storage systems due to their flexibility and responsiveness.

Repurposing existing infrastructure to build a decarbonized energy system

One of the greatest criticisms of renewable energy is its variability. When the sun goes down and the winds begin to calm, production slows down, and so being able to store energy for these lulls and periods of downtime is essential for uninterrupted energy flow. As the world slowly becomes greener and greater efforts are being made to make towns and even entire cities carbon-neutral, the importance of reliable renewable energy storage will continue to grow.

By far the biggest challenge of supporting renewable energy storage is this variable nature of natural resources; they cannot always be predicted and relied on. As such, supply, cannot be controlled. The power grid therefore needs to be adapted and flexible enough to cope with these fluctuations.

Highview’s solution is to repurpose equipment from existing and soon-to-be decommissioned energy plants and infrastructure to ultimately integrate renewables into the UK grid.

In Highview Power’s announcement of its cryogenic project, CEO Javier Cavada said, “More and more power plants [in the UK] are going to be decommissioned, and we are bringing a solution which can use the same energy infrastructure and grid connections to give a new life to these sites,” and added that long-duration storage is the "necessary foundation" for building a decarbonized energy system.

While Highview’s project shows potential, it still needs to prove itself and offer the long-duration storage it promises. It also needs to show effectiveness when it comes to grid balancing in terms of short-term operating reserve and peak load capacity. If the project is able to deliver, it will both help the UK power grid meet renewable energy demands and potentially pave the way for the global adoption of cryogenic energy storage.