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Cryogenic Energy Storage: An interview with Javier Cavada of Highview Power

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Cryogenic Energy Storage: An interview with Javier Cavada of Highview Power
Courtesy of Highview Power

Highview Power recently announced the formation of a joint-venture with TSK, a global leading EPC company for the expansion of its giga-scale cryogenic energy storage systems across Spain, the Middle East and South Africa. The joint-venture is expected to enable the immediate shift from thermal and nuclear power to renewables and is expected to result in ~1 billion EUR over the next three years.

The new JV allows the company to co-develop giga-hour scale, long-duration energy storage systems using Highview Power’s proprietary cryogenic energy storage solution, the only long-duration energy storage solution available today that offers multiple gigawatt hours of storage representing weeks’ worth of storage, not just hours or days. At giga-scale, cryogenic energy storage resources are equivalent in performance to – and could replace – a fossil fuel power station.

REM talked to Highview Power CEO, Javier Cavada, to find out more.

Can you tell me about the two companies that are involved in this project? Highview Power and TSK

Absolutely. Highview Power is a 14-year old technology company, headquartered in London. We have expanded now to the US, Middle East and Spain, soon coming to Eastern Europe and South America. The CRYOBattery is our product, our solution is long-duration large-size, always looking for applications to move solar arrays to provide full base-load for the whole day, so four hours, eight hours, 10 hours, 20 hours, that’s our sweet spot and wind the same of course. Owning the patent of the technology allows us to have full commercialisation. We have two plants in the UK, a small one and a commercial one on the national grid here in Manchester, and now developing projects in the UK and continental Europe and the US, and next upcoming is the Middle East and we have started to work to penetrate to bring these large long-duration energy storage projects to make sure renewables provide the baseload. That’s Highview Power.

TSK, or TSK Group, is a company with more than 50 years of history, headquartered in Gijón, Spain, in the North of Spain, with offices in Madrid, and also in Germany. it’s an EPC company, so a construction company with a foundation in electrical equipment, so mainly balance of plants, etc. So it’s becoming a global EPC, it moved heavily into oil and gas and now is doing likewise for renewables and waste treatment plants. it’s a 1.2 billion revenue company, with more than a thousand employees mostly in Spain but I would say 40 percent of the projects are in the Middle East and 40 percent of the projects are in Latin America. They have completed projects in more than 50 countries and more than 30 GW and this alliance is about bringing Highview technology with EPC capabilities to certain regions with a champion company like TSK to deliver projects with quality performance and timing, enabling this technology to expand across Middle East and Latin America, also South Africa with , and of course Spain with TSK’s market now and enable the transition to more renewables.

Can you tell me more about the actual technology? I don’t understand the term cryogenic to start.

Excellent. I will make several comparisons to make the understanding easy, to make it easy to explain to anybody that is not a mechanical engineer or something like that. This is like a hydro technology, or a pumped hydro technology in a suitcase. You are really able to take a pumped hydro reservoir with a full power generation equipment but do it in an industrial way, you can assemble in the workshop and bring it to the site like plug and play and always large, never small scale.

How do you do it? That’s why it’s cryogenic. It takes technology that is totally proven for decades and decades, more than a 100 years, the same technology that is used to liquify gas, like LNG, that is used to have liquid oxygen in the hospitals, is used to liquify the ambient air. You could do it with any gas, like with nitrogen too, but the ambient air is something that we know is readily available. So we absorb the ambient air and cool it down, which is called liquefaction, it’s the charging station. You input power and you get power out of it. When you input power, that power is used to reduce the temperature, so it’s an industrial refrigerator I would say. It’s called a liquefaction plant. You go down from the ambient temperature to -196 Celsius approximately, same temperatures as LNG or liquid oxygen or liquid nitrogen that you see in every industrial area. And then what you are doing is changing the electricity in into cold or energy that is cooling down the ambient air.

When you cool it down, it compresses 800 times in volume or 800 meters of ambient air is 1 litre of liquid air. You are making it liquified, you can call it cryogenic fluid or liquid gas, and you store it in tanks similar to those used to store propane or LNG or liquid nitrogen. Those tanks are standard and available everywhere. You can have a tank for hours or weeks or months because again, the volume, you think again about the reservoir of hydro, will make it 800 times smaller so that’s the power density you’re bringing. When you need the power out of this cryogenic energy storage, then you heat it up again. And to heat it up, you mix it with normal ambient temperature, which is 196 degrees higher, so then the gas appears so the liquid air becomes gas very quickly that is 800 times bigger, which creates big pressure and this pressure activates the air turbine, similar to the water turbine you have with hydro. The air is like a steam and is clean. You are taking air and delivering air. To cool it down again, you need to clean it, so take out the Co2, take out the particles because they have different points of liquefaction moving from gas to liquid and then what you deliver is clean air. Those are the three phases: charging by cooling down the air, storing by keeping the liquid cryogenic air in tanks, and discharging – you heat it up again and rotate the turbine – in under four seconds, you get full power. You can get any size storage, you can get hours, days as you wish because the volume is very compact.

How does it compare with other forms of energy storage technology? 

This is not an invention, this is a technology that is industrial, proven. Highview Power made it standard in different models. The supply chain has matured for decades and all the manufacturers of the different components are companies such as the famous General Electric, Siemens etc Extremely reputable companies that are part of our partnership/supply chain and then we put together these components to go through this process. I want to highlight that energy storage five years ago was not needed at all because there was no penetration of renewables of wind and solar. I see this coming now and it’s increasingly coming. Now we really have the technology with solar is the cheapest way to produce electricity and wind being the second cheapest way. Energy storage is the missing link but you need enough energy storage capacity.

When we talk about long duration, we talk about really long duration. I mean London now, half of the day was sunny and we get all the hours of sun and can deliver this energy (cryogenic) when the sun is not visible anymore and the same with wind. The main thing is that in energy storage today, everybody talks about lithium ion, it is a proven product and proven solution, it is compact. We use it in phones, laptops and cars, it is coming more into cars I hope and part of the production is used in utility scale. Again the biggest project from lithium ion is the one from 2017 with Tesla in Australia, so that was really some time ago and we talk about 100 MW, which is pretty small for the size we are talking and with our size. If you look at the global energy storage capacity, not too many people speak about it, but 95 percent of the global energy storage capacity is quite old, like hydro energy storage capacity, like Hoover Dam, that we have in the Europe and the UK and many other places like South America. The issue with hydro is that you need geographic accuracy – you need water, you need the difference in height, you need construction. So we do that model and approach in an industrial manner, in an engineering manner, very compact. So we enjoy looking for 30 minutes, 40 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours but our solution is for larger scale. So if you are looking for tiny or small energy storage, lithium ion is fantastic and it’s the technology we need to deploy.

For peak saving, there is this movement of peaks of wind in and out but if you want the full power that we store, you need cryogenic energy storage that can hold a full tank. If you look at costs, when you go over 4 hours, we have the lowest cost of energy storage by far because we have very steep economics of scale and we are very sensitive to volume, so the bigger, the cheaper, like at KWh you could say because you need to add more tanks, the tanks are extremely commoditised, they are only steel tanks, there is nothing fancy about them. We don’t have any rare materials in the composition of the plant, it is all steel and industrially standard. We don’t have anything in the technology that is extremely un-understood or chemistry related so there’s no potential of leaks or thermal renewables or runaway. Very safe, very clean, very benign and that’s why solar is making its way through globally. Solar is the cheapest way to produce electricity and the reason why our technology has been the one that everyone is looking at now is because we have the lowest cost of storage for one level or one scale (large scale). For let’s say 25MW for hours, we are the best in cost, if you go to 50 MW, we are way better and if you go to 100MW, we are amazingly better and if you go to 10 hours, there is nothing better than our technology.

Where is this being used at the moment?

We have built projects in the UK and we are in the moment of developing projects, we have contracts signed that we are going to be announcing in the coming weeks and months in the UK and in the US. We are competitive comparatively in our solution to other solutions and that’s why companies like TSK are getting into contracts really fast because our solution is beating technically and commercially over other technologies.

Just to mention that TSK is one of the most successful companies today in deploying solar PV in the Middle East and concentrated solar power in the Middle East and north of Africa. You know that concentrated solar is about storing the heat together with metals that are creating electricity through solar. If you put PV together with our cryogenic energy storage and sizing it up, we are so much cheaper and so much more modular and so much safer in that sense. It’s an evolution of technology.

As we speak, we are in the moment now of deploying projects and we have references working on the grid, we have two announced projects in the UK and before summer we will have two more that are going to be several times or several multiples bigger than the one of south Australia that set the lithium ion record because we are talking about big size again. And the good thing is that any lithium ion that is deployed, we see it as very positive. We need more and more renewables and more renewables means clean air mixed less emissions and lower costs of electricity and well, a big opportunity for our technology because our technology is the one creating an opportunity for really a 100 percent renewable grid already today, there is no need to wait for 10 years.

How likely is it (cryogenic energy storage) to replace nuclear and over what kind of time scale?

Sure. I’ve been in the energy industry for a couple of decades and we can replace nuclear in speed and deployment. We don’t need years and years of deployment and nuclear has all these extreme safety demands that of course, if something goes wrong, it can devastate everything. Our technology can be deployed immediately.

The thing is that our technology does not replace nuclear, our technology together with renewables replaces nuclear. We store the power generated with wind and solar coupled and definitively replace nuclear immediately. I will not say from a safety perspective because that’s obvious. The message is that in the places that nuclear is disconnecting, and there is a need and a demand, we can put there in the same location with coal and thermal plants the same connection that we can put with big energy storage plants and we can keep the connection, we can keep the infrastructure, we can still utilize the investment that was made a long time ago and phase out the obsolete or traditional ways of producing electricity by placing energy storage that is accumulating power from the solar and the wind. We can make thermal stop losing money at the same speed that we put more wind and solar. We make sure that wind and solar are not slowed down by existing assets into the grid. We don’t install more wind and solar because there is no need or demand, the demand is totally covered. In places like Germany, if nukes were coming out, we would all run to replace them with clean energy.

Thanks for all this, really interesting. Is there anything else I haven’t mentioned that you would like to mention especially?

Because you were asking about the TSK/Highview Power JV, it’s a geographically focused JV because they are champion in PV and CSV and areas like North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, Chile, Spain and south of Spain too and the PV plus our technologies is best in efficiency by far, there is nothing cleaner, than solar and our cryo technology. The mix is about a technology company together with an EPC who has the financial muscle, billions of dollars in projects and growing big time and they are betting on our technology because it is the one that is differentiating them from all other EPCs. You will hear a lot from us in the coming months, Robin, so thank you for the interview. The technology is ready now and we have this mission of making this happen much earlier than the politicians say. At the moment, they are still too impacted by the big corporations.

For additional information:

Highview Power

TSK

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