One obstacle that is holding back adoption to renewables is the lack of any efficient means of storing this energy. However, some highly innovative solutions might be able to help solve the issue of preserving alternative energy for long-term use.
Storage Solutions for Alternative Energy
Megan Ray Nichols | Schooled By Science
Although you've probably been hearing about the need for large-scale renewable energy for decades, the majority of the world still has a long way to go before widespread adoption of alternative energy becomes mainstream. One obstacle that is holding back adoption to renewables is the lack of any efficient means of storing this energy. However, some highly innovative solutions might be able to help solve the issue of preserving alternative energy for long-term use.
Using Thermal Batteries to Collect and Store Energy
We've been using batteries to store and, in some cases, collect energy for quite some time. If you're reading this on a laptop computer, you're probably relying on a battery right now. However, thermal batteries, such as molten salt and ice batteries, can actually be used to complement some of the most common alternative energy solutions today.
Molten salt batteries are designed specifically for capturing and storing energy from thermal solar arrays. The battery becomes active during the nighttime, when the sun isn't shining, in order to provide energy in the form of steam generation. While some large-scale plants have been built in order to demonstrate this technology, it has yet to catch on.
Ice batteries are typically seen in large-scale air conditioning systems. The ice battery actually works in an opposite manner of the molten salt battery by collecting power during the night in order to supplement the energy used by the air conditioner throughout the course of the day. Such batteries can result in a 95% decrease in daytime energy consumption in some circumstances.
Storing Energy in the Depths of the Ocean
While most wouldn't turn to the ocean as a logical or efficient means of storing energy, a Canadian company known as Hydrostor is doing exactly that. Relying on hydrostatic water pressure as well as the implementation of numerous underwater balloons, known as accumulators, the system's proprietary technology actually converts energy into compressed air. Moreover, any heat that is generated by the system is also collected and stored through a series of heat exchange mechanisms.
Preserving Energy Through Compressed Air
Compressed air is another form of next-gen energy storage technology. One of the biggest drawbacks to compressed air storage, however, is the fact that it still relies on the common electric grid, at least in part, for its power.
Today's compressed air energy storage plants, which are very few and far between, generate electricity by pushing and containing highly pressurized air within underground storage chambers. When needed, the air can be depressurized to supply consumer electricity via large wind turbines. However, this process only occurs as power levels drop. When power levels are plentiful, modern compressed air energy storage plants still utilize the common electric grid.
To increase operating efficiency and save on power consumption when running an air compressor, it's always a good rule of thumb to run 75% loaded and 25% off. When applied to an eight-hour shift, for example, your compressor should never be operated for more than six hours a day or 30 total hours within a five-day workweek. Maintaining strict adherence to rules such as this will ensure that you are making the most of your energy storage solutions.
Flywheel Energy Storage
The basic concept behind flywheel energy storage can actually be traced back to the Egyptians, who used simple rotating discs to aid in pottery crafting, water pumping and more. The design has obviously been modified, upgraded and refined over the years, but modern flywheels have still been in existence since the 1950s. In fact, some major cities rely on flywheel mechanisms to power their public transport systems.
Flywheels work by gathering kinetic energy within a large, rotating drum, which also serves to power the motor generator. Energy is collected and stored during periods of excess energy production, which can be used later to spin the flywheel's generator and, in turn, provide power to a structure, vehicle or city.
Even More Options
There are a lot more options when it comes to storing energy for later use. Hydrocarbon fuel cells, electronic capacitors, advanced gravitational systems and even liquid nitrogen can all be used to capture and retain renewable energy. While some of these options may be more of a theory or concept than a practical application, it's only a matter of time before such innovations become commonplace.
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