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Published on March 6th, 2011 | by Susan Kraemer

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Another ARPA-E Winner: General Compression’s Renewable Energy Storage Ramps Up in 30 Seconds




[Updated correction: Per GC, this can ramp-up in under 6 seconds!]

One of the success stories at the recent Department of Energy ARPA-E summit held to highlight innovators funded under the $400 million to find renewable energy innovations in the Recovery Act, is General Compression (GC). The start-up is developing an innovative compressed air energy storage system that will help get more renewable energy on the grid.

Just in time, too. At the end of last year, California made storage mandatory. And last week, FERC just proposed that fast storage be paid better than slower storage, because we will need it more.

And this start-up makes fast storage: it can unload in as little as 6 seconds! (It sure pays to have a Nobel Prizewinner running the DOE! Remember when an oil man ran it?)

Energy storage  is becoming more critical because it helps utilities quickly ramp up or down grid supplies to balance more renewable power. (FERC Wants Smaller, Faster, Distributed Storage to Speed Renewables)

General Compression is developing a variation on compressed air energy storage (CAES). Once the air is compressed, it is pumped underground for storage, and then when needed, can be expanded again to make electricity.

Like traditional CAES, their system stores the compressed air in salt caverns (constructed in geologic salt formations), saline aquifers, or depleted gas fields.  Unlike conventional gas-turbine based CAES systems, the General Compression system can be started or stopped at a moment’s notice.  

The GCAES system can switch from idle to operation in under 6 seconds, and during operation has a control response time of less than 1 second, including reversal between compression and expansion.  

Each of the units is 2 MW each, and power plants can use any number of these independent units to achieve a preferred power level. Because they are completely independent they can be deployed to achieve absolute power levels, or to achieve preferred levels of redundancy, or for maintenance scheduling convenience.

The hours of energy storage a power plant achieves (measured in MW-hours), is entirely a combined function of the plant’s power capacity (measured in MW) and the volume of air storage constructed (measured in cubic meters). 

GCAES power plants may be configured to supply tens of hours of storage, to many hundreds of hours of storage; at any power that is a multiple of 2 MW.

1,000 MW of storage is the size Cal-ISO says California will need when it gets 33% renewable power on its grid in 2020.

And by not being reliant on nearby natural gas, it can be sited near existing wind farms, and near existing transmission. This is key, as we seem to be moving in a regulatory direction where wind farms are being required to supply their own storage.

It is modular, so it can scale up or down. It can be built in arrays of modular units, from 2 MW to 1,000s of MWs. And because it is fuel-free, it is cheaper to run over time.

The company also naively assumes that, because it is uses no fossil fuels, it will be easier to permit, too. Green, climate safe, fuel-free and all that. Well, yes, in a sane world. Maybe in Europe. But at Cleantechnica, we see the opposite. Clean solar or wind takes years to permit.

But filthy fossil power has tantrums when asked to wait two months – McConnel and Inhofe’s Mining Jobs Protection Act gives the EPA just 60 days to approve or veto coal mining permit applications: if no decision, permit is therefor automatically “granted”!

[Update: since writing this story Tyler Infelise of General Compression has clarified some technical errors I made, in confusing the current technology, and added this point in response to the renewable permitting discrimination that I see:

"While there is nothing technically wrong with this statement, we are certainly aware that the permitting process is no trivial matter.

Our longterm view is that while there certainly are difficulties in permitting wind and solar, these will be nothing compared to trying to permit new coal.  

And as the costs of renewable technologies decline, particularly when coupled with large-scale, low-cost storage such as ours, permitting will become increasingly less of an issue. But we are fully aware that permitting anything is a non-trivial challenge."]

Susan Kraemer@Twitter

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About the Author

writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate, and GreenProphet. She has also been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow, and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design, Susan brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention, solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci-fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times.    Follow Susan on Twitter @dotcommodity.



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  • http://michaelbelfiore.com Michael Belfiore

    Whoever cracks this grid storage challenge is going to make a hell of a lot of money. Fortunately, we’ll probably end up with a portfolio of solutions so we won’t be dependent on any one of them. Another ARPA-E winner with a display at the Energy Innovation Summit was MIT’s Donald Sadoway and his group building liquid metal batteries.

  • http://www.gridflexenergy.com Matthew Shapiro

    I’m a little confused by the article. It says that like traditional CAES, the air is stored in salt or saline aquifers. Then it says that since it doesn’t use natural gas, it can be sited anywhere. Well, it’s actually not that easy to find suitable sites in salt or aquifers. It’s probably easier to site the projects near gas lines than it is to find the perfect geology. In any event, it will be interesting to see what a real project looks like.

    • http://cleantechnica.com/author/susan Susan Kraemer

      Good point. Should read ‘anywhere with suitable geologic storage.’ (The company also includes depleted gas or oil fields as another storage option) Will revise.

  • Dr.A.Jagadeesh

    Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) with a compressor right in the nacelle of a wind turbine is indeed great innovation. The way research is going on in Renewable Energy especially Solar and Wind shows the ambitious targets set by US in Renewables will certainly be achieved.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

    • Septimus van derLinden

      The idea of having compression in the nacelle has been dropped–this was a good idea originally but not the most prctical.The compression expansion engine is electrically driven from wind and any excess power source.Fossil fuel would be used if power for storage came from Gas or Coal fired power plants
      Septimus van der Linden

      • http://cleantechnica.com/author/susan Susan Kraemer

        Yes, I have corrected my earlier version. My mistake.

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