Clean Power

Published on August 27th, 2013 | by Nicholas Brown


Compressed Air Energy Storage To Grow Dramatically Over The Next Decade

August 27th, 2013 by  

According to Navigant Research, the compressed air energy storage industry is forecast to grow drastically during the next 10 years.

“Rapidly changing energy mixes and increasing renewable energy penetration will continue to introduce instability onto electricity grids worldwide in the coming years, while the volatility of load profiles will challenge grid operators to deliver reliable and secure electricity,” says Kerry-Ann Adamson, research director with Navigant Research. “These macro conditions will drive demand for CAES, helping to rejuvenate a sector that has been largely dormant for the last two decades.”

LightSail CAES Concept. Image obtained from LightSail Energy.

Apart from the above factors, it’s important to note that coal, nuclear, and thermal natural gas power plants are slow to adjust and unable to meet electricity demand on their own, hence the use of peaking power plants.

According to the new Navigant Research report, CAES growth is also to be driven by the improvement of scalable, modular CAES technologies such as isothermal and adiabatic CAES. There are a handful of developers in this industry and they have technology which is projected to be commercially validated within the next 12 to 36 months.

The report also stated some challenges: “The unique siting requirements of traditional underground CAES, however, present substantial development risk and limit the technology’s outlook. Higher efficiency, next-generation CAES technologies that are not limited by geological considerations are on the cusp of commercialization, and are well positioned to address the gap in availability of long duration energy storage technology that can be sited where needed. Navigant Research forecasts that worldwide installed capacity of compressed air energy storage systems will reach 11.2 GW by 2023.”

The main applications focused on in the study are: Wind energy integration, solar energy integration, grid asset optimization, transmission and distribution deferral, and ancillary services.

The basic concept of compressed air energy storage has existed for decades, and has been commercially available for over 30 years. It never caught on much and became mainstream, as it wasn’t the most cost-effective option in most applications. However, as the need for energy storage grows greater, CAES becomes more attractive, especially with the advancements in technology noted above.

Compressed air energy storage systems can be built without rare materials, and can also be built to last a very long time, if the manufacturer chooses to do so. Compressed air energy storage systems can also be recharged and discharged very quickly. Some consider it “low-tech” due to its simplicity. And let’s not overlook that fact that simplicity is a great thing!

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About the Author

writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography. His website is:

  • JamesWimberley

    NB: ¨,, it’s important to note that coal, nuclear, and thermal natural gas power plants are slow to adjust…¨
    Untrue for natural gas plants, which can be easily designed to ramp quickly. Since they are also cheap, reasonably clean (locally), and efficient, gas is the real long-term complement/competitor to renewables, especially for that difficult last 20% of the load.

    • Bob_Wallace

      True for gas turbines. Less so for gas thermal systems. The turbine part of a combined cycle plant can go full speed in 15 minutes or less, the thermal part takes a few hours.

      Gas is a usable short term fill-in for wind and solar. We can’t use it long term, it still puts a lot of GHG into the air and we probably don’t have a long term supply.

      Storage should replace NG and, hopefully, soon.

  • eject

    The problem with compressed air storage is that a substantial amount of the work that you have to put in results in the gas getting hot. This energy is lost in most cases.

    • Matt

      Thus the “new” systems that recover/reuse about 70% of the heat. See above picture.

      • eject

        I don’t want to be that guy but I am not that optimistic with those numbers. They are only achievable under certain conditions (a bit like those MPG figures).

        In real grid cycles they are sadly lower, still capturing some of the heat is better then nothing and a lot better then no storage. As long as it can compete with gas turbines its fine.

        I looked a lot into this technology since in theory you can just seal old mine shafts and pressurize them. That promises multiple GWh* per spot and next to no impact on the landscape. But doing it on this scale basically requires you to have a usage for that heat or you pay a hefty price. I really do like this idea since a lot of Germany looks like a swiss cheese underneath and it would be so easy and elegant if it weren’t for this thermodynamic.

        *There is a gas power plant “McIntosh” in Alabama US that can utilises CAES. It stores up to 2860 MWh in 538000 m³ (a proper mineshaft is a lot bigger) which can be released over 26h at a max rate of 110MW. Note, this thing needs to burn gas, it basically offsets the compressor losses of the gas turbine by using the air that was compressed earlier but this is still storages. There is an older one of those in Germany although storing way less air.

        • Bob_Wallace

          We could be looking at two versions of CAES.

          One in which the captured heat is stored as hot water and used to reheat the air. This is likely best for smaller scale, more frequent turnover storage. A company called LightSource is working on CAES with captured heat built on shipping container scale. This could be a good solution for moving supply to demand during the daily cycle.

          Modular, factory built, easy to transport and site.

          One in which we store very large amounts of air for the occasional times when we need a lot of supplemental generation. For when wind and solar inputs are way down for multiple days.

          If the heat could be captured and used, say in an industrial process, the gas saved by the factory could then be used to reheat the stored air on its way to the turbines.

          Use the underground chamber, abandoned mine and build a factory next to it, one that needs significant heat.

          We’d have ‘deep backup’ storage which would be filled with only the cheapest of electricity. The compression heat would be used as produced. Avoided gas could reheat the stored air. And if we ran out of stored air we could still run the turbines with gas and atmospheric air.

          • Kiwiiano

            Apparently air bladders submerged in a lake or the sea are the most cost efficient form of energy storage. There will still be losses due to the compressed air being heated but the accumulated losses from motors/compressors/generators/etc are no worse than alternative systems and the technology is simple and easily applied. It allows for big volumes of compressed air rather than high pressures, a good way of taking the peaks and troughs out of solar/wind/tidal energy supplies.

          • Bob_Wallace

            LightSail is projecting a 30% loss while storing the heat.

            Giving up the heat is going to take efficiency pretty low.

          • Matt

            If you are willing to find a use for the heat why not the cold. Think about a large building chillers that run at night to be used to cool during the day, but on a bigger scale. Think all the AC at Disney World or a city core. You seal/insulate part of the mine and store the cold.

    • Then consider that energy used to power an AC system in the summer will be enhanced by the expansion of that same air when used for E generation.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Wouldn’t it be great to buy a tank about the size of your car and be able to store enough energy to power your house for a week…

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