The next generation of energy storage

Wind turbines line the coast

With a surge in renewable energy generation, researchers worldwide are pushing to innovate methods that combat the technology’s intermittent nature.

One of the solutions is energy storage and is the focus of an international cluster of leaders in offshore energy and storage spearheaded by the University of Windsor and University of Nottingham. For the past five years, the Offshore Energy and Storage Society (OSESS) has met annually to exchange ideas and foster collaborations that will propel the integration of renewable energy and storage technologies.

“We’ve relied on the inertia of big fossil fire and nuclear plants in the past, but energy systems are changing and how that future system is going to work is still an open question. Grid integration, storage and other technologies are going to be critical,” says Daniel Laird, director of the United States National Wind Technology Center and National Renewable Energy Laboratory and keynote speaker at OSESS’s 2019 Offshore Energy and Storage Summit.

Tonio Sant, an associate professor at the University of Malta and member of the OSESS technical committee, says without energy storage, it’s impossible to reach 100 per cent penetration of renewable energies.

“These forms of renewable energies have their own problems. They are intermittent — today you have a lot of wind and tomorrow you don’t. We need to integrate energy storage as soon as possible,” he says. “Events like the OSESS summit offer a great opportunity to bring together different researchers and industry from around the world to discuss technical challenges and chart a way forward on how we can advance energy storage and make it more economical.” 

Sant leads a research team that created a system that uses compressed air for energy storage. Unlike existing concepts that rely on deep-sea hydrostatic pressure to maintain a stable pressure, Sant’s FLASC dual-chamber technology allows the operating pressure range to be established independently of the deployment depth. The first prototype was installed in 2017 in the Grand Harbour of the Maltese Islands and stores energy generated from PV panels.

Dr. Rupp Carriveau, a UWindsor engineering professor and OSESS co-creator, played a critical role in developing Canada’s first underwater compressed air energy storage and conversion system with Hydrostor and Toronto Hydro, which currently operate the only grid connected underwater energy storage facility in the world. His most recent work is examining the stability and durability of offshore structures in deep waters that are subject to extreme weather conditions, such as tornadoes, extreme thunderstorms, down bursts and other strong windstorms.

“What we would like to see is OSESS be at the heart of major projects that make an impact for communities,” Carriveau says. “For example, we’ve talked about the electrification of an island. We plan on translating these lab scale and smaller field scale pilot projects into full-scale commercial support for the offshore scene.”

OSESS co-creator Seamus Garvey, who teaches at the University of Nottingham, believes renewable energy will not only reach grid parity with fossil fuels, it will eventually take over as the primary energy supply. Garvey patented TetraFloat, a pyramid shaped platform for offshore wind turbines. TetraFloat’s cost-effective design includes a single anchor and wide base that can withstand extreme wind and waves.

“Offshore wind is now in a very well-developed state where it’s already completely washing its face as a commercial source of electricity,” Garvey says. “Integrating is going to be massively important and massively difficult and this conference is digging out the solutions for those and producing some new ideas.” 

By 2022, the International Energy Agency expects offshore wind generation capacity will almost triple from 2016 levels. Today in Canada, the electricity grid is 80 per cent non-emitting and the federal government has adopted a target to have this increase to 90 per cent by 2030, according to the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Andreea Strachinescu, head of unit, directorate-general for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries European Commission says it’s interesting to see the variety of projects that are being developed in different countries, “from the European level to projects in South Korea.” 

“I think it will be great if we can continue to develop collaboration between different parts of the world on this topic. In the world that we in live today, I think that we need to work together in order to succeed and use our ocean in a sustainable way.”

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This article is featured in the 2019 issue of Windsor Engineering (WE).