School of GeoSciences

News in summary

Mon, 21/01/2019

Rocks in the seabed off the UK coast could provide long-term storage locations for renewable energy production, new research suggests.

An advanced technique could be used to trap compressed air in porous rock formations found in the North Sea using electricity from renewable technologies.  The pressurised air could later be released to drive a turbine to generate large amounts of electricity, the study found.  Using the technique on a large scale could store enough compressed air to meet the UK’s electricity demands during winter.  

The approach could help deliver steady and reliable supplies of energy from renewable sources – such as wind and tidal turbines – and aid efforts to limit global temperature rise as a result of climate change.  However, the amount of energy produced by many renewable technologies varies depending on weather conditions, and there is a need for new processes that can store energy cheaply and reliably for months at a time, researchers say.

Engineers and geoscientists from the Universities of Edinburgh and Strathclyde used mathematical models to assess the potential of the process, called compressed air energy storage.  The team then predicted the UK’s storage capacity by combining these estimates with a database of geological formations in the North Sea.  Porous rocks in UK waters could store about one and a half times the UK’s typical electricity demand for January and February, they estimate.

Compressed air energy storage would work by using electricity from renewables to power a motor that generates compressed air, which would be stored at high pressure in the pores found in sandstone. When the pressurised air is released from the well, it would power a turbine to generate electricity that would be fed into the grid.  A similar process storing air in deep salt caverns has been used at sites in Germany and the US.  Locating wells close to sources of renewable energy – such as offshore wind turbines – would make the process cheaper and reduce the amount of undersea cables required, the team says.

Dr Julien Mouli-Castillo, from the School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said:

“This method could make it possible to store renewable energy produced in the summer for those chilly winter nights. It can provide a viable, though expensive, option to ensure the UK’s renewable electricity supply is resilience between seasons. More research could help to refine the process and bring costs down.”

Further information

The study - Inter-seasonal compressed air energy storage using saline aquifers - was published in the journal Nature Energy, and funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council, Scottish Funding Council, Scottish Power and the Energy Technology Partnership.

Study GeoSciences at Edinburgh - undergraduate

Study GeoSciences at Edinburgh - postgraduate

GeoSciences research

North Sea rocks could act as renewable energy stores, study findsNorth Sea rocks could act as renewable energy stores, study finds