Most folks strongly support development of wind and solar energy generation to replace utilization of fossil fuels. However, wind and solar energy depends in part on steady winds and sunny days. Some critics, like me, point out we will always need massive amounts of, at a minimum, natural gas fired power plants to back-up solar and wind generation during their slack periods. That’s because sometimes, we’ll have more wind and solar power than we need, and hours later, we may not have nearly enough.
Solar and wind supporters frequently argue that advances in energy storage may address this problem. And in Texas, of all places, we can now find three pending permit applications for just that type of large-scale energy storage.
It’s called Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES). The technique is to employ excess solar and wind energy to compress air, and pump it into storage caves. Later, when we need energy, the air is heated and released, and its rapid flow turns a turbine and produces considerable electrical power.
A company called Apex currently has two such applications pending in Texas. Both proposals could generate 317 megawatts (MW) apiece (.31 gigawatts). Another company, Chamisa, proposes a 135 MW facility to store excess energy from a 250 MW wind farm. These three proposals, if developed, could at times temporarily replace the energy from a medium-sized coal fired power plant.
These proposals would take advantage of Texas’ enormous wind energy generating capacity. Texas has 10,648 MW of wind energy developed. Fully 13% of Texas’ energy generating capacity, and 8.5% of Texas usage, comes from wind.
There are only two CAES plants operating in the world; a 290 MW plant in Huntorf, Germany (of course), and the 110 MW McIntosh plant in Alabama. A mammoth, 2900 MW proposal is permitted in Ohio, but the owner, FirstEnergy, has not developed it.
CAES is a low carbon energy source, but not fossil-fuel free. CAES uses small amounts of natural gas to supplement the compressed air's energy.
These proposals, if developed, would advance alternative energy, by implementing its storage for later use.
The Department of Energy has also funded CAES research for other sites in New York’s Finger Lakes region and near Bakersfield California.
But since I am writing about Texas, there’s some bad news also. There are pending permits, in Texas alone, for new industrial facilities that will add over 40 million tons/year of Greenhouse Gasses to the air. That’s the rough equivalent of 10 new coal-fired power plants.
I'll be gone for a couple of hours, but will respond to any comments later this afternoon.