Daily Chronicle: ‘Frozen air’ electricity generator proposed for northern Vermont

By Guy Page

The first-in-the-nation “liquid air” power storage and generating plant announced Wednesday could be a game-changer for solar and wind power in Vermont.

Highview Power of London, England and Encore Energy of Burlington announced plans to build a 50 megawatt power storage facility in northern Vermont.

How does it work?

Like the rechargeable radio battery attached to the stationary bicycle on Gilligan’s Island, the proposed 50 megawatt Highview Power storage/generation facility would store electricity created by spinning wind turbines or photovoltaic solar panels. As planned, such a system could solve solar and wind power’s Achilles Heel of “intermittency.” Solar and wind depend on the vagaries of weather. Sure, their fuels are free, renewable and zero-carbon. But unlike fossil fuels and to a lesser extent hydro and nuclear, they’re unreliable. Imagine lazy Gilligan stopping pedaling right when the Skipper is about to find out when the rescue plane is coming, and you get the idea. Sometimes they make too much power, risking damage to power lines and other infrastructure.

Guy Page

Where would it be located?

The press release only says “northern Vermont.” But it stands to reason that the site ideally would be located in northeastern Vermont. Intermittency has been a particular worry in the Northeast Kingdom, where wind farms and a growing number of large-scale solar facilities have raised concerns among Vermont regulators that that the grid could become dangerously overloaded. Highview said “the Vermont facility will contribute to resolving the longstanding energy transmission challenges surrounding the state’s Sheffield-Highgate Export Interface (SHEI) and enable the efficient transport of excess power from renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power to help integrate them on the power grid.”

Utilities, regulators and transmission grid operators have puttered around the intermittency problem with better real-time weather modeling and “buffering” turbine and grid improvements. It all helps. But the basic problem is still there. That’s why battery storage is seen as the decisive longterm solution to intermittency. There’s nothing new about grid-scale battery storage, but “liquid air” technology is new and breathtaking in its simplicity – at least on the theoretical level, a Dec. 19 Environment and Energy Leader blog post explains:

Highview Power says its proprietary liquid air energy storage system, called CRYOBattery, uses excess or off-peak electricity to clean and compress air, which gets stored in liquid form inside insulated tanks at extremely cold temperatures.

Air turns to liquid when cooled down to -196°C (-320°F), and can then be stored very efficiently in insulated, low pressure vessels,” Highview Power’s site explains. “Exposure to ambient temperatures causes rapid re-gasification and a 700-fold expansion in volume, which is then used to drive a turbine and create electricity without combustion.

Get it? It’s just a different way to spin power-producing turbines. In a hydro dam, rushing water spins turbines. In a natural gas plant, combustion turns turbines. With the Cryo Battery, it’s warming, expanding air that spins the turbines. Then the release moves on from the “how” to the “what,” while suggesting an answer to  the always-important “how much.”

Energy generated from the turning turbine can then be used at peak times, the company said.

What will the power cost?

The press release doesn’t say, because Highview and Encore don’t know — yet. However, the reference to “peak times” suggests it will be expensive. Peak power is dispatched by ISO-New England grid dispatchers when demand is high and they need to keep the lights on. Even traditional, fuel-cheap oil and coal “peak” plants are expensive, because they must recoup their costs with peak sales alone. A pilot plant using new technology and powered by already-expensive solar and wind power would have to charge a pretty penny, even if — as Highview claims — it’s safe and has half the operating costs of traditional lithium batteries:

Highview Power’s proprietary liquid air energy storage system, called CRYOBattery, relies on low-risk, proven technology, generates zero emissions, has zero water impact and can be delivered at a cost of approximately half of the current cost of traditional lithium-ion batteries.

Who will pay?

The Encore press release states, “Highview Power and Encore are in discussions with potential utility and transmission grid operator customers regarding the capabilities and services the facility can provide.” No doubt! If the plummeting cinder block of construction and operation falls on Vermonters alone, we will assuredly feel the pain. But if ISO-New England accepts the project as a valid transmission system upgrade, then the cost would be spread out equally among all consumers in all six New England states. If so, Vermont’s share could be in the single digits. And if Uncle Sam takes an interest, he might pick up a share of the cost, too.

The future of the Vermont Cryo Battery probably comes down to money. If it works for the major players, including all of the above and Vermont energy regulators, too, it might work out. If not — it’s back to Gilligan’s Island.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports at the Vermont Daily Chronicle.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Paul Anderson
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12 thoughts on “Daily Chronicle: ‘Frozen air’ electricity generator proposed for northern Vermont

  1. Bear Swamp and Northfield Mountain, both in northwestern Massachusetts, do the same thing only with water. During of peak hours, like at night, water is pumped up to a reservoir higher on the mountain. At peak time the water is released to flow back down and through turbines to power generators. I don’t know if it is an economic solution but they fill a need in supply and demand. The Frozen air device sounds like it would be both power and maintenance intensive. Safety factor would be one of my main interests.

  2. It takes energy to compress air. It takes energy to refrigerate air. So how much energy does this system net, after the energy used up to do that?
    What is needed is a plant built around motor-generator sets that wind up huge mainsprings, like clocks used to to. When that peak power is needed, you let them go, and the motors become generators, to balance the grid.
    Or maybe a system of towers or well-shafts, that have a winch-elevator system, to hoist a great weight, when there’s excess generating capacity, and unwind to generate as needed.
    They keep coming up with these supposedly “new” energy storage schemes, which are really old news, but not in current use.
    Next thing they’re going to discover will be steam power, then maybe horses.

    • Carbon fiber flywheels in evacuated modules are yet another possibility. These are used to power buses in Germany. There are compressed (not liquified) air cars, but they don’t carry enough fuel to run very long. I’m skeptical about liquefying air (-320 F).

    • Banning all fossil means most of us would have to walk to work, or work at home.

      I foresee the revival of manual labor cottage industries, and horse drawn plows, etc.

      Conditions would be similar to 1800, but instead of 1 billion people there are going to be 8 billion in 2020, growing at 75 million per year, competing to eke out a living.

  3. Rocket engine exhaust is water vapor. Wonder how many think it’s pollution.

    I remember a time when (even I) considered operating vehicles on liquid hydrogen. There are system data to view. I was considering water injection into the corroborator of my ’54 Buick Roadmaster when in the Air Force in 1960.

    Our B-52’s (8 engines) taking off had water injection to increase thrust. The black smoke was the water (with JP4). When the water ran out, the black smoke also ceased.

    There’s more evaluations need undertaking to make generating elec. Technology is there, but not fully obtained.

  4. The wind and solar electricity used would be very expensive at least10 c/kWh with subsidies, about 18 to 20c/kWh without subsidies and without cost shifting.

    That variable wind and solar electricity could not be directly used by the air liquefaction plant, because its compressors need steady electricity!!!.

    Compressing air will cause heating of the air.
    That heat needs to be removed by a multi-stage refrigeration system so that the compressed air becomes a compressed liquid.

    The air liquefaction plant will draw steady electricity from the grid that would otherwise overload the weak electric grid of the Northeast Kingdom.

    Germany has a few pilot plants, but elsewhere, including in virtue-signaling Vermont, this concept is still in “ the looking at” stage.

    The A to Z economic cost with no subsidies would be well over 18 to 20 c/ kWh for wind and solar, plus about 10 to 15 c/kWh for the liquefaction.

    Of course, with enough subsidies even pigs can be made to fly.

    Also note, very clean, near-zero CO2, no particulate pollution, STEADY, hydro electricity is available from Hydro Quebec at a fixed price of about 6.5 c/kWh for 20 years.

    It is the far beyond rational for Vermont to not buy more HQ electricity.

    • Addition to comment:

      Baker Hughes (https://www.bhge.com/industrial/energy-storage/liquid-air-energy-storage), which is advising this technology for Highview Power, is estimating the all-in cost (financing, operating, maintenance, etc.) at $150-250/MWh. So my estimate of $100 – $150/MWh was too low.

      Using the Baker Hughes number of $200/MWh cost, or $0.20/kWh!

      That is on top of the cost of wind and solar I mentioned.

      This is a whole new meaning of “cost effective” with which I was previously unfamiliar……

      Someone mentioned, once carbon taxes raise the cost of fossil-fuel-generated electricity to around $2/kWh, this scheme will be so much cheaper that they’ll have to impose taxes on it to keep government revenues stable.

      My thanks for the reminder.
      I keep forgetting the hair-shirt, misery and deprivation future awaiting me.

      And the cost of $150 – $250 per MWh assumes the scheme will be used for short term storage of electric power not storage for weeks and months.

      There is no scheme I know of that can be economically used for electrical storage for weeks and months.

      This scheme cannot be scaled up to store wind and sun gathering surplus electricity which is produced in the sunny summer months for use later in the winter.

      In the winter there are high pressure cold air masses that result in cold windless days that for a large portion of a month.

      Vermont Electric … said that after three conversations with Highview Power, its LAES technology remains an “option.”

      Sounds like an LAES system hasn’t been “completely” ruled out, but any storage is more likely going to be a large battery system.

      Oh, BTW, wind turbine output curtailment will be FAR cheaper; just pay the owners of wind turbines for the electricity they COULD have generated.

      Looks to me like a no-brainer, as long as no one games the system.

  5. Instead of these multi layers of problem infested methods of Electricity production wouldn’t one thorium plant with 2 reactors which would produce cheap uninterrupted
    power for all at all times be a more sensible idea??? it also would have a lower
    land footprint and carbon footprint…

  6. A Little Pie in the Sky – Really a Less Effective Variation on an Old Idea Electrolyzing Water to Produce Combustible Hydrogen Gas !

    This sound fairly “iffy” – The underlying concept is sound, I guess, however it would be much efficient to use the excess power to electrolyzing water to create hydrogen gas which could be compressed and stored (much in the same fashion as this project envisions storing compressed air) however liquid hydrogen is an efficient fuel which unlike fossil fuels produces on CO2 or carbon pollution – burning hydrogen produces only one exhaust by-product: H2O ! Of course, the Green Energy / Global Warmists probably would cry that H2O (water/steam) is their latest pollution target – but the claim could also be made about the “frozen air” as it thaws out and “rapidly expands to 700 times its liquid volume !”

    https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-production-electrolysis

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