How to make the most of wind and solar power

METHOD: A graphic of how the system would work
METHOD: A graphic of how the system would work
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Tim Gavell talks to a Lancashire businessman who plans to help the development of renewable power

A Lancashire businessman has developed plans which could solve one of the biggest issues holding back the development of renewable energy – the storage of intermittently generated electricity.

Jeff Draper

Jeff Draper

The question of how to make the most of wind and solar power at times to suit the national usage and not just at the moment when the sun shines or the wind blows is a thorny issue which has hampered the industry.

But Jeff Draper of Penwortham reckons his company Storelectric may just have one ingenious solution.

Already partnering with PwC, Storelectric is currently in advanced detailed discussions with Siemens, Balfour Beatty, Alstom and other blue-chip companies, both to finalise the design of and prepare a standardised roll out facility which can handle power out-puts of 500MW – equivalent to a power station.

Jeff, married to Niamh Draper of Felicity Hat Hire fame, said the system which involves the storage of compressed air in salt caverns below the ground, could result in renewable energy being on tap for the national grid to be used whenever and wherever needed. He said: “It is a novel form of compressed air energy storage, each installation will replace a power station, producing 500MW, storing at least 25GWh of electricity.

“The capital cost is lower than a gas-fired power station and operating much more efficiently, as its main source of power will be wind and solar power.

“There is an urgent need for this technology right now. The United Kingdom, in common with most of Europe, is facing a severe energy challenge.

“Over the last 3 years, the electricity generating capacity margin that provides security of supply in the UK, has fallen from 17 per cent to 4 per cent and is still declining. This has been caused mainly by an ongoing programme of closure of aging base load power stations, including coal and nuclear.

“Wind and solar are, by definition, not base load but ‘peaky’; the power is only available when natural weather conditions allow, not always when the power is needed.

“This type of power generation is not capable of fast response when there is an urgent need for power to support a surge in demand.

“But by using that renewable energy to drive compressors and storing the compressed air in salt caverns, which are by nature self sealing and strong, the energy is stored and can be released when needed.

“Given the huge improvements in efficiency of the equipment in recent years , the system would be capable of 63 per cent overall cycle efficiency now which is likely to improve to closer to 70 per cent by the time that the first large scale commercial facility comes on line.”

Jeff said he was in talks to establish three test sites, in Cheshire , County Down and Fife.

He said that given a fair wind the technique could be used in the salt caverns of the Wyre -– the area in which the company Halite has been battling tremendous local opposition to store natural gas.

He said compressed air, unlike natural gas, was not likely to explode combustively. The European Union has awarded Storelectric with technical approval as a Project of Common Interest.