• Unique geology in Larne area could revolutionise renewable power generation from wind energy
  • Proposed £200 million investment in energy storage facility has potential to create up to 200 construction and engineering jobs

Monday 2 March 2009 – Gaelectric, the renewables and energy storage company, is leading the field of energy storage with the development of a unique Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) facility in Larne, Co. Antrim.

Development of the proposed plant will involve an investment of up to £200 million over a three-year period, providing approximately 200 jobs across the construction and engineering services sectors.*

The energy storage facility will maximise the potential of renewable power, whilst stabilising electricity prices and emissions. It will also enable a faster and more efficient integration of wind energy onto the electricity grid, thus providing indirect employment benefits for a range of businesses involved in the construction and operation of wind farms.

Keith McGrane, Head of Offshore Energy and Energy Storage at Gaelectric, explains how the unique geology in the Larne area could be utilised to develop a CAES plant which would help manage the variability associated with renewable generation:

“One of the greatest challenges to unlocking the potential of wind power is to match generation with periods of peak demand. Gaelectric intends to deploy compressed air into underground geological caverns in the Larne area as a means to store energy generated from wind, for release during periods of peak demand, or as required by the grid operator. Such technology has the potential to revolutionise renewable power generation from wind.”

So, how exactly does a CAES facility work? Keith continues: “Compressed Air Energy Storage refers to the use of off-peak power to compress air into an underground geological storage vessel, such as, a salt cavern, a depleted gas field or a disused mine. This compressed air is later released to generate peak power during periods of higher electricity demand.

“When clean renewable energy available from wind is combined with CAES, we can capture the energy generated at night (which would otherwise be lost) and optimise the operation of existing plants on the system by smoothing the variability impacts of wind. A CAES power plant can go from idle to full power in less than 10 minutes.”

Environmental Benefits: “CAES is an environmentally friendly technology. Since atmospheric emissions are and will continue to be a major issue for the power industry, the CAES environmental benefits are some of its most valuable attributes. Per megawatt emissions from CAES are about one-third of conventional fossil fuel generation plants. Throughout the CAES cycle, compression and combustion are separate processes, resulting in a reduced impact on the environment compared with conventional natural gas-fired plants.

“In addition, the ability of CAES to smooth the intermittent nature of wind can help reduce emissions across the power system by reducing the reliance on thermal plant. Underground energy storage is nothing new and today approximately 400 gas storage plants exist beneath the ground in the United States. As such the deployment and operation of energy storage in salt deposits is well established and is extremely safe involving the storage of air and not natural gas at depths of 500 to 1,000 metres underground.”

Why is Larne a suitable location for a CAES plant? Keith explains: “Some years ago Gaelectric carried out a survey across Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland to see if there was suitable geology for a CAES plant. Larne was identified as an area with a unique geology and the presence of salt deposits from the Triassic period provided the impetus to investigate the development of a CAES plant there. The objective would be to leach caverns at depth in the salt deposits, producing the energy storage vessels required for CAES.

“To do so, we now need to determine how extensive the salt deposits in the target area are and in order to do this we have applied for a Mineral Prospecting Licence from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland to undertake further investigative work.

“There are two CAES plants currently operational in the world – one in Germany (the Huntdorf Plant built in 1978) and the other in the USA (the MacIntosh plant built in 1991). These plants were not built to be operated strictly as storage plants but rather as power plants providing back-up reserve and intermediate power generational capabilities.

“However the confluence of a number of unique factors such as climate change, energy security, the need to integrate renewables onto existing grids and the build-out of major transmission systems is all underpinning the need for energy storage in modern power systems and CAES is a proven way to deliver this in bulk.”

Keith sums up the essence of what CAES ultimately means to local consumers: “CAES provides a proven method of balancing the intermittency of wind energy ensuring that energy is delivered to consumers when they need it, whilst improving the overall operational efficiency of the system as a whole. Larne is uniquely positioned to have a CAES plant built given the presence of the underground salt layers. Air storage is at the cutting edge of new energy markets and Northern Ireland has the opportunity to lead in this field.”

Welcoming Gaelectric’s announcement Professor Neil Hewitt, Professor of Energy and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Technologies at University of Ulster’s School of the Built Environment adds:

“The increasing deployment of renewable energy raises the spectre of a conflict between the availability of renewable energy and the demands of society. Mechanisms of matching renewable energy supply to energy demand are required which are in keeping with the socio-economic conditions encountered throughout Ireland as a whole.

“Energy storage is proven to be able to reduce both the peaks (and troughs) in demands leading to higher efficiency supply-side operations. Storage can allow alternative energy formats to reduce operating costs through energy which is supplied at some earlier time and delivered when required.

“Gaelectric are to be commended in their innovative large scale approach which is complementary to the leading edge energy storage research at the University of Ulster which focuses on the role of the supply side and in particular the built environment at an energy store.”**

Gaelectric is now a world leader in promoting CAES technology to integrate and maximise the value of wind onto electricity grid systems. It has assembled some of the world leaders in this technology as part of its development team. Besides promoting the Larne Project, it is also actively involved in three CAES projects in the United States – two in Montana and one in Texas.

For further information on CAES and the work of Gaelectric log onto www.gaelectric.ie


For all media enquiries please contact Janet McKay on 07968 817514 or email janet@janetmckaypr.com