‘Fossil fuels are the real competition’: Highview teases 250MWh ‘CRYObattery’ for the UK

Highview's 15MWh LAES project in England, which followed a 2.5MWh demonstrator. Image: Highview Power.

“Cryogenic” energy storage could be coming to the UK in scales as large as 250MWh per project - but the CEO of technology provider Highview Power says that fossil fuels, not other types of battery storage, are the liquid air-based technology’s true competitors.

Energy-Storage.news spoke with Javier Cavada at the Electricity Storage Network’s annual symposium in London last week. Highview claims its technology stores energy cheaply as (very) cold air that can be held in steel tanks and then expanded in volume over 700 times over as it outputs to drive generation. Cooling ambient air to -270°F (-170 ̊C) can be done safely and cost-effectively, the company claims.

Cavada wrote about the technology and its claimed advantages for PV Tech Power a while back, explaining that “the process is similar to that used to liquefy natural gas, but because these cryogenic systems use only air, the entire charge/discharge cycle is completely free of carbon emissions".

“Our cryogenic energy storage technology is basically a gigantic battery – with storage capacities starting from utility-scale (25MW) and increasing from there. Our key differentiation, as opposed to other types of batteries, is our ability to provide long-duration storage,” Cavada said, with systems able to scale from “up to even 20 days of storage”.

Faith in long duration

While at the moment, long duration energy storage is not backed by widely applicable business cases in many markets and most advanced battery storage deployed around the world are lithium-ion systems that can range from 15 minutes of high power to four hours of capacity at grid-scale, Cavada believes that to fully decarbonise the grid and dramatically reduce dependency on fossil fuels for renewables, long duration storage is a necessity.

At the Electricity Storage Network event last week, Cavada said, much discussion centred around “how regulation can help promote a healthy investment environment so energy storage services – which enables us to time-shift electricity – can be remunerated. With that, you enable investment into the sector, which will enable 24/7 renewables”.

US energy secretary Rick Perry appears to agree, having enabled competitive funding for innovative storage research that can go beyond 100 hours duration. In the UK, meanwhile, a drive to roll out smart meters into the next decade implies that stronger value will be placed going forward on when, where and how electricity is generated, particularly alongside or as part of recently-set policy goals to decarbonise by 2050.

So far, Highview Power has only deployed at two sites in England, a 2.5MWh demonstrator and a 15MWh project that followed, but claimed that a JV launched in March with major EPC partner TSK that could be worth a billion Euros and propel the company into new territories

“This year, we will build our first very large, or even our first ‘gigantic’ plant [in the UK],” Cavada said.

The system works by cooling ambient air to -270°F (-170 ̊C), in turn enabling a 700-fold compression in volume. Image: Highview Power.

'Once regulators understand the benefits...'

At location to be disclosed this summer, Highview will deliver a 50MW / 250MWh five-hour duration cryogenic liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant, part of a UK portfolio of five different projects and a further portfolio around the world the company claims as a pipeline to be built, although, Cavada said, “due to existing regulations, they are not being built as fast as we would like. There still needs to be more education available to regulators on the benefits of energy storage. Once they understand the possibilities this technology can bring, I anticipate we can begin to implement our technology at a faster pace.”

“Regulators were not ready for large-scale energy storage. They were ready for power generation and for renewables, but energy storage – enabling the shift to renewables – is something that has taken regulators by surprise.”

Similarly, Energy-Storage.news spoke this morning with a lawyer and energy industry expert Kirsti Massie of law firm White & Case, who said that “some great things have been done” in the UK energy storage industry, which held a lot of positives, but that in common even with other ‘leader’ markets such as the US and Australia, the energy system was not designed with a definition of storage – which is neither generation or load – in mind.

It’s also still not clear how transmission and distribution network operators in the UK – and many other jurisdictions – can handle issues in their service areas that could be cost-effectively solved or mitigated using energy storage, when, for example in the UK distribution network operators (DNOs) are not allowed to own storage assets. These and other signals need to change for investment to come in at scale and with long-term plans to reassure investors. Storage will “have to play a bigger role” in the system, Massie said.

Driving change in the energy system, reducing the carbon footprint of energy production can be done with renewables and energy storage as their enabler, Cavada argued, with giant cryogenic storage systems and pumped hydro from larger-scale and lithium-ion for smaller or high power applications. He touted potential projects in the US, where LAES systems of eight hours duration could be paired with wind farms and discussions for further business in Spain for “peak energy-intensive factories” and North Africa and the Middle East where facilities enabling 24/7 renewables at scale could be created.

For Highview, therefore, the competition is “power generation that is not carbon neutral,” Cavada said.

While he says that even 250MWh is “not a large size for us” based on the potential of what the technology could do, Highview would struggle to scale to deliver several gigawatts a year. So in a race against time to decarbonise, “it's going to be a hybrid of different technologies that gets us to the 100% renewables mark”.

“You can easily replace renewables with carbon and fossil fuel burning power generation – that’s the competition.”

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