[Originally posted on EcoGeek.]


One of the most frequent objections to renewable energy systems is that their production is too variable. But technologies continue to be developed that will allow storage of power generated from wind, solar, and other intermittent renewable sources. The latest development comes from researchers at Isentropic in Cambridge, England who propose giant batteries filled with gravel and argon gas. These batteries would provide a number advantages over pumped hydro, which is presently used for almost all electricity storage today, as well as over underground compressed air storage.

The gravel battery system would use excess capacity generated by a renewable source to heat and pressurize the argon gas and then pump it through a gravel filled silo to store energy. Then, when demand calls for electricity, the system is simply operated in reverse to generate electricity. According to the company, the system’s “round trip efficiency is over 72% – 80%.” This is comparable to the efficiency of pumped storage hydro, which has an efficiency of 70 – 85%. But gravel batteries are much more compact, and can be more readily installed in relatively flat areas characteristic of many areas with good windpower potential, such as the American Great Plains. A gravel battery can use far less land (1/300th) than that required for a pumped hydro lake, as well.

Underground compressed air storage is another technology that has been suggested, but that requires the presence of underground caverns, which are not always present where you might want to put a power storage facility. In addition to being able to be located anywhere, gravel batteries could be relatively inexpensive because they do not need costly materials. Costs could be as low as $55/kWh, and $10/kWh at scale for large installations.

via: Worldchanging