Blog Post

Meet the next generation of air energy storage players

Bill Gates and Peter Thiel are funding it. Power companies are interested in it. Young bright minds are working on it. So what is it? That would be the next-generation of a technology called compressed air energy storage, which sucks up air, compresses it on demand, and stores it in tanks or underground caverns. When power is needed, the air is released.

The technology might sound like some boring power infrastructure system — and it is. Basically. But air energy storage technology could also enable grid storage cheaply enough to help the solve the problem of adding variable clean power to the grid. Solar and wind power can only be generated at certain times of the day. If wind farms and solar projects were coupled with cheap energy storage like compressed air tech, it could make them a lot more economical.

That’s one of the reason that entrepreneurs, investors and power companies are looking to develop the next generation of this “air battery” technology. While the idea behind compressed air energy storage has been around for years, a new crop of startups has been working on making the systems more efficient and lower cost. Here’s three startups and one consortium that are working on this next-gen tech:

Company Investors Tech Details Status
LightSail Energy Khosla Ventures, Peter Thiel, Bill Gates, Isothermal, with water mist as coolant. Tanks to store air. Working on 2nd gen prototype. Commercial in 2014.
SustainX DOE grant, RockPort Capital, Polaris Venture Partners, Angeli Parvi, Cadent Energy Partners, General Catalyst Partners, GE Energy Financial Services. Isothermal, with water mist as coolant. Tanks to store air. 40 kW project in West Lebanon, N.H. Next Summer a 2 MW project
General Compression US Renewables Group, ConocoPhillips, Duke Energy, Serious Change, and the Wellford Energy Group. Isothermal-like system using caverns for the storage. First utility-scale project under development in Texas with ConocoPhillips.

Adele A consortium which includes GE, utility RWE, contractor Züblin, and the German Aerospace Center. Adiabatic technology, with the heat stored in concrete tanks. Air stored in caverns. Hopes to have a demon plant of 90 MW up and running in 2019.

5 Responses to “Meet the next generation of air energy storage players”

  1. Rasika Athawale

    Growing interest in Energy Storage also leads us to the debate of whether between the utility and the consumer who is most suitable to ‘store energy’. From an economics point of view since a utility can experiment with bigger scale energy storage projects as compared to a single consumer – scale economies can be better achieved if the utility stores energy. However in any case of an externality, such as superstorm aftermaths, a centralised storage facility will be at risk just like a grid and the consumer is better off if it is in proximity to its storage options. More views on
    Rasika Athawale

  2. Keef Wivaneff

    I call BULLSHIT on this one.
    Smells like another GREEN WIDGET SCAM!
    Of course we are all looking for renewable energy improvements but there is nothing new in this idea.
    Compressed air storage is inefficient, uneconomic and dangerous.
    Many companies have sprung up claiming to have solved the problems by using an adiabatic process.
    Nothing ever eventuates except that the company directors get to drive around in Ferraris for years spending investors and taxpayers money whilst delivering nothing but excuses.
    Warm water is not a rare commodity!
    If it was really that simple to generate more energy by the addition of a little hot water then you’d be on a winner.
    Why in the world do you need $37M ?
    You claim it is a low cost system.
    Why don’t you go ahead and build a few systems and SELL them?
    (Better mousetrap, beating a path to your door etc.)

    No, much more fun to be had from a GREEN WIDGET SCAM.
    Original investors (claim) to be putting in $37M and wait for the dummies to climb on board.
    Original investors take back their money (with interest) and leave the bag-holders to enjoy the “trough of disappointment”

    A hype cycle in Gartner’s interpretation comprises five phases:
    “Technology Trigger” — The first phase of a hype cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.”Peak of Inflated Expectations” — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.”Trough of Disillusionment” — Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.”Slope of Enlightenment” — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.”Plateau of Productivity” — A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

    Of course in the case of GREEN SCAMS – there is never any plateau
    ……just a trough….with directors snouts deeply in it!

    (Hat, knife and fork on standby)