Compressed air can be used for energy storage

It makes trees sway, forms waves on water and drives wind turbines. For the most part, people do not think of air as a storage medium.

It makes trees sway, forms waves on water and drives wind turbines.

For the most part, people do not think of air as a storage medium.

Ask a mechanic, painter or a trucker — they are very familiar with doing useful work using air pressure, but to the average person air is something we breathe, fly through or just complain about.

In the never-ending quest for reliable energy storage mediums, inventive minds have conceived a technology that uses air to store electrical power.

Compressed air provides the motive force for air wrenches, paint guns and air brake actuators.

Building on this concept, companies around the world are compressing air in large volumes, either in tanks, bags or in huge underground storage caverns.

This compressed air energy storage (CAES) system provides a means for supplementing electrical output during peak periods of demand or of modulating alternate energy output.

Canada’s electrical grid relies on additional generation capabilities during those times of day when demand peaks.

With a CAES system, energy that is stored during periods of low demand would be utilized and released back into the grid without the need for additional fuel to be consumed by cycling the power plant back on line.

Alternate types of electrical energy generation, which only produce at Mother Nature’s whim, benefit from compressed energy storage releasing power when needed to provide around-the-clock and peak-period power generation.

Storage facilities, based on the design requirements of the customer, can range from a collection of high-pressure tanks, underground caverns or porous rock reservoirs, to large “plastic bags” tethered to the floor of oceans or lakes; all specifically developed for CAES applications.

As much as this approach seems like an advent of the modern era, in fact compressed air energy storage systems have been around for well over 140 years.

Systems have been in place in Paris, Dresden and Buenos Aries, since the 1870s.

Paris had a 2.2 MW system in place in 1896 for running motors in light and heavy industry.

The first utility-scaled system using a salt dome cavern was built in Huntorf, Germany, in 1978 with a generation capability of some 290 megawatts.

It has since been expanded to include the cyclic output of a wind farm.

Subsequently, from that time, there have been more plants built in Germany, Texas, California, New York and Alabama.

In the U.K. and Canada, companies are working on creating more efficient equipment and developing technologies for novel compressed air storage systems making the technology available to a wider variety of end users.

Modern advances and materials are making CAES rival battery banks in efficiencies, and they surpass batteries with an obvious low environmental impact.

It may have taken more than 100 years to develop the scale we now see, but the air we breathe is being harvested as a storage medium for energy that is environmentally benign, can greatly augment our efforts to reduce hydrocarbon consumption, and minimizes our carbon footprint.

Lorne Oja is an energy consultant, power engineer and a partner in a company that installs solar panels, wind turbines and energy control products in Central Alberta. He built his first off-grid home in 2003. His column appears every second Friday in the Advocate. Contact him at: lorne@solartechnical.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Erika Fetterly, owner of EFP Studios, recently launched the Let Them Have A Voice campaign. (Contributed photo)
Central Alberta photographer’s campaign aims to give youths a voice

An Innisfail photographer is giving a platform to young central Albertans so… Continue reading

Chopped Canada-winning chef Pete Sok is trying to focus on the future as he reopens Boulevard Restaurant and Lounge in the Holiday Inn on Gasoline Alley during the pandemic. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer’s celebrity chef looks past the pandemic with new restaurant opportunity

Pete Sok is reopening Boulevard Restaurant — and betting on the future

The Red Deer Rebels hosted the Medicine Hat Tigers in the first game of the shortened 2020-21 season on Friday. The two teams faced off again in Medicine Hat Saturday (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Red Deer Rebels fall to Medicine Hat Tigers on Saturday

Tigers 7 Rebels 2 The Red Deer Rebels have lost two straight… Continue reading

Alberta has 1,910 active cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday. Red Deer is reporting five active cases, with 108 recovered. (File photo)
Red Deer reports 25th COVID-19 death

415 new cases identified provincially Saturday

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

The Pornhub website is shown on a computer screen in Toronto on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Pornhub policies reveal legal gaps and lack of enforcement around exploitive videos

OTTAWA — Serena Fleites was in seventh grade when a sexually explicit… Continue reading

Sean Hoskin stands on a neighbourhood street in Halifax on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Hoskin was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost a year ago with symptoms that still persist. Some provinces have established programs to deal with long-term sufferers but Atlantic Canada, with relatively low numbers of patients, has yet to provide a resource to assist them. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
On East Coast, exhausted COVID-19 ‘long haulers’ hope specialized clinics will emerge

HALIFAX — On evenings when Sean Hoskin collapses into bed, heart pounding… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators goaltender Matt Murray (30) stands in his crease as Calgary Flames left wing Andrew Mangiapane (88), left to right, defenceman Rasmus Andersson (4), Matthew Tkachuk (19), Mikael Backlund (11) and Mark Giordano (5) celebrate a goal during second period NHL action in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Calgary Flames beat Ottawa 6-3 to end Senators’ three-game win streak

Flames 6 Senators 3 OTTAWA — The Calgary Flames used a balanced… Continue reading

Crosses are displayed in memory of the elderly who died from COVID-19 at the Camilla Care Community facility during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on November 19, 2020. The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection is likely to be much higher than recorded because of death certificates don't always list the virus as the cause of a fatality, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Death certificates don’t accurately reflect the toll of the pandemic, experts say

The number of people who would have died from a COVID-19 infection… Continue reading

Most Read