Are air compressors a green option for future energy storage?

30/07/2019
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We all want to do our bit to help protect the environment, and modern energy efficient air compressors are a great way to do that, providing energy in the form of compressed air that can run a variety of different machinery and air power tools.

But as we move over to more and more renewable energy, what happens if you live and work in an area that is not near the coast or on a fast-flowing river for hydro power, not subject to strong prevailing winds to spin turbines, and doesn’t get much sun to generate solar power – especially if you work at night?

 

Compressed Air Energy Storage

Air compressors could prove to be the answer to this problem too, as Compressed Air Energy Storage, or CAES, is being developed as a cheap, efficient alternative to storing electrical energy using batteries.

CAES uses air compressors to convert electrical energy into elastic potential energy which is stored for as long as the air is contained; when it is released, that potential can be used to drive a turbine or motor, and generate electricity.

 

It’s efficient because the air can be contained physically without losing pressure – and as long as its container is airtight, there is theoretically no limit to how long it can hold its potential energy, making it a ‘genie in a bottle’ for long-term energy storage.

And it’s cheap because compressed air can be stored in large volumes in underwater tanks or in excavated salt caverns deep below the ground, as well as in above-ground steel tanks for convenient energy storage wherever it is needed.

 

Providing a consistent energy supply

Ironically up until now, CAES has been held back specifically because it is more suited to long-term storage, and we have simply not had the levels of renewable energy production to generate an excess that isn’t used immediately or within a matter of hours.

But as this changes and more renewable production comes online, especially in remote areas or in places subject to changing weather conditions and variations in production, the long-term storage potential of CAES could be the perfect solution to providing a consistent energy supply around the clock and all year round.