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World's first grid-scale pumped heat energy storage system becomes operational

10/01/2019
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The world’s first grid-scale pumped heat energy storage (PHES) system has been commissioned and entered into operation as part of Newcastle University’s National Facility for Pumped Heat Storage. The system has been developed as part of the work of the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), and places the UK as a leader in the research and development of low-cost and grid-scalable electrical and thermal energy storage.
The world's first grid-scale pumped heat energy storage system located in Fareham, Hampshire.
(The world’s first grid-scale pumped heat energy storage system located in Fareham, Hampshire. Image via Newcastle University).

The system developed by the team at Newcastle University consists of two containers – a cold store and a hot store – filled with gravel and an inert gas. The two containers are connected via a reversible 150kW heat pump. When surplus energy needs to be stored, the inert gas is withdrawn from the cold store and compressed using an electrically-powered pump, thereby raising its temperature. This gas is then injected into the hot store where the heat transfers to the gravel. The gas is then withdrawn from the hot store and returned to the cold store once it has sufficiently cooled.

To release the energy that is stored in the gravel, the process is reversed. Gas from the cold store is compressed and injected back into the hot store, where it is reheated by the gravel. This newly heated gas is then used to drive the engine.
The pumped heat energy storage system involves the use of two containers- a cold store and a hot store- filled with gravel and an inert gas.
(Image via Newcastle University).

Professor Tony Roskilly, Director of the Swan Centre for Energy Research, which has helped to develop the technology, commented:

“Pumped Heat Energy Storage or Pumped Thermal Energy Storage is cheap and is compatible with the technical and scale-up challenges of grid-scale energy storage. Given the thermal power cycle’s enormous potential, there has been a tremendous amount of research and commercial interest in PHES technology over the last ten years, however until now nobody has managed to get as far as to demonstrate a real-world working system”.

During recent testing, the 150kW reversible heat pump/engine was operated in compression and expansion modes i.e. as a heat pump and a heat engine, with evidence to support sub-second charge/discharge mode switching.

As countries across the globe continue to intensify efforts to decarbonise their energy grids, the need for effective energy storage systems will grow.

Whilst renewable energy sources represent a good way of decarbonising energy grids, their intermittent and diffuse nature means they are unable to provide the constant source of energy that grids require. Energy storage solutions which can provide power to the grid when renewable sources can’t will therefore be key to keeping the lights on in a decarbonised future…

Although there are many different energy storage systems currently under development, with Tesla’s utility battery system being the most high-profile, scale is the major limiting factor. Building battery storage systems big enough to support grids of any meaningful scale could prove to be logistically and financial unviable. Storage systems like the one outlined above may prove to be more feasible. As Dr Andrew Smallbone, project lead on Newcastle University’s PHES system says: “This technology works much like a battery but at grid-scale it is much cheaper, more sustainable and more efficient than the chemical systems that are currently planned”.

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