The New Way to Store Electricity

The New Way to Store Electricity
A new startup is proposing turning abandoned oil and gas wells in the US into vaults to store electricity. Photograph: Jurgen Vogt / Alamy/Alamy

Texas start-up company, Quidnet have turned heads this week as they plough forward with the idea of storing electricity underground.  Quidnet is just one example of how companies are really beginning to solve not just environment issues, but go one step further, and look to get the most out of the renewable energy power sources we are using.  In 2015, there were 221 megawatts of energy storage projects installed in the U.S. which is a huge rise from the previous year when there were just 65 megawatts installed.  The figures are expected to rise to over 1 gigawatt of annual installation by the year 2019.

The way Quidnet are looking to store energy involves first pumping water deep into the Earth to fill up the cracks in between rocks where fossil fuels previously were.  Once this water is released, because of the pressure that has built up, it pushes through a turbine-generator that sits above ground and generates electricity.  Energy storage projects such as this one are becoming increasingly popular because of the rise in renewable energy that is now being produced. Storing unused energy to use at a later date solves the one big problem that we have with using the wind and solar power and that is having the cheaper form of electricity available when we need it.

Funds don’t seem to be a problem for Quidnet. They recently secured some more venture capital, bringing their total now raised to over $1 million.  Some of the company’s investors include Clean Energy Venture Group and the Will and Jada Smith Foundation. Most are in as they believe that this will be a cheaper alternative to lithium-ion batteries. Quidnet launched a pilot project in Erath County, Texas earlier this year to test the concept. Co-founders Aaron Mandell and Howard Schmidt set to work demonstrating the idea with the use of an abandoned 2,800 feet deep well that flows into a 50k gallon reservoir.  Results showed that are pumping water into the well for 12 hours, generated around 6 hours worth of electricity.

The company’s main concern for the project lies in being able to contain the water.  But, the team have chosen a well-sealed underground reservoir, and the loss of water recorded so far is less than 1% per week. Their next move is to run another pilot project, but this time in northern Nevada.  It’s an old geothermal well that is 14 inches in diameter, which is larger than typical oil and gas wells, allowing more water to be pumped through it at any one time.  The attached reservoir can hold 85k barrels of water and has the ability to generate 10 hours electricity in just 14 hours of pumping.

Eventually, Quidnet would like to construct its wells in places there is a high demand for storing energy. Each site would have approximately 20 wells with each being able to generate around 35 megawatts of energy per hour. They are also working on developing software that will allow energy storage owners to run the project remotely. Quidnet aims to be able to build a project that will cost around $50 per kWh, which will include everything but the drilling of wells to see if they are suitable. But, because they primarily look to use wells that are no longer in use, much of this cost is already covered.

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