Highview Power to Develop First Major Cryogenic Storage Plant in UK

Highview Power is taking its unusual cryogenic or liquid air
storage from demonstration to commercial scale.

The company is developing its first large-scale system in the
north of the U.K., it revealed Monday. The first project will have
a capacity of 50 megawatts/250 megawatt-hours, and could be up and
running by 2022.

It’s not a done deal: Highview is still looking for offtakers to
secure contracted revenue that could balance merchant activity in
Britain’s wholesale markets. But Highview has a location locked
down at a retiring thermal plant site, and is working on
procurement for the construction phase.

If built as described, this project would mark a milestone for
the exotic technologies challenging mass-market lithium-ion
batteries for longer duration grid storage. Battery plants have
begun supplying several hours of power in certain markets, but they
are not economic for storing days or weeks of renewable power. A
motley crew of technologies is vying to fill that gap, including
flow batteries of various chemistries, giant block-stacking cranes
and some
mysterious but well-funded designs

This sector of the storage industry has had trouble migrating
from the lab and the demonstration phase into large-scale
commercial deals. Highview’s announcement puts it on track to claim
the largest storage plant among the lithium-ion alternatives, if
another company doesn’t get there first.

“Early bets are already being placed by the investment community
on alternatives to the dominant battery chemistry, but this project
would give Highview bragging rights as one of the first to move
beyond the smaller pilot phase,” said Daniel Finn-Foley, energy
storage director at research firm Wood Mackenzie Power &
Renewables.

So far, Highview has built a 350-kilowatt pilot project followed
by a 5 megawatt/15 megawatt-hour demonstration plant that has been

operating since 2018
. That means the company is preparing to
scale up power capacity 10 times compared to its largest
operational system.

That’s not a problem, CEO Javier Cavada told GTM, because the
plant will use off-the-shelf components from the natural gas and
power plant industries which are already built for this kind of
scale. 

“The bigger the better for this technology,” Cavada said. “We
are bringing it to the real size where this technology makes sense.
To demonstrate it, it was scaled down.”

The competition from gas peakers

The design uses compressors to super-cool air and squeeze it
into tanks. Releasing the compressed air spins a turbine to
regenerate power. The whole thing looks like a small liquefied
natural gas terminal, Cavada said.

The Highview plant would address two trends stressing the U.K.’s
grid: thermal plant retirements, which reduce inertia on the wires,
and new wind plants, which inject more intermittent power. After
literally filling the gap left by a retiring plant, Highview will
store power during influxes of wind generation and make it
available when peak demand drives prices up. The spinning mass of
its turbine will also contribute to the inertia that keeps the grid
humming along.

The business model is still being finalized, but could involve
multiple market roles, including energy arbitrage (buy low, sell
high), frequency regulation, reserve power and grid constraint
management services. The technology could also work in concert with
renewables developments, to provide a dispatchable renewable
product.

Even this major construction is just a starting point for
Highview. Lithium-ion plants are already under construction that
will store more power; break new ground, Highview will need to add
longer duration still. But, Cavada noted, it’s much cheaper to add
hours of duration by sticking more tanks on an existing cryogenic
storage facility than it would be to buy additional batteries.

He sees the competition as flexible natural gas plants, not
lithium-ion batteries.

“We are already below gas when you are coming to those levels of
50 megawatts, five hours [duration],” he said. “We are way below
lithium-ion for this size of plants.”

The non-lithium contenders

Among the non-lithium competition, a few stand out.

There are a handful of pumped hydro storage projects in late
stage development, like
Absaroka Energy’s site in Montana
. This technology is vetted by
decades of field operations, but constrained by geography and
permitting difficulties, so it likely won’t pose much threat to
Highview’s business outlook. 

Energy Vault raised
$110 million from SoftBank
to scale its gravity-based,
block-stacking energy storage concept. Its first commercial project
is expected online this year, but the basic design clocks in at 4
megawatts/35 megawatt-hours of storage, much smaller than
Highview’s planned facility.

A closer parallel to Highview’s approach might be Hydrostor, a
Canadian firm using equipment from established industries to

store energy as compressed air underground
. Instead of needing
specialized underground caverns, Hydrostor can dig its own shafts
or use existing mine shafts. Like Highview, its leaders say it will
hit an economic stride at much larger scale, because that’s what
the industrial equipment it buys is geared for.

Hydrostor is building a 5 megawatt system that will participate
in Australia’s wholesale markets, and raised $37 million this fall
to continue scaling operations.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Highview Power to Develop First Major Cryogenic Storage Plant in UK