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Compressed Air: A New Energy Option?

Harnessing the power of the earth for electricity


Harnessing the power of the earth for electricity.

Compressed air storage plants, like this proposed one north of Boardman, OR, could aid the Pacific Northwest in utilizing its surplus of renewable energy sources optimally.

The Pacific Northwest alone could power roughly 85,000 homes by storing compressed air in porous rocks underground, according to new research.

Compressed air plants draw power from the electric grid during off-peak periods and use it to power large air compressors that push pressurized air into underground geologic storage.

When power demand is high, the stored air is released to the surface, heated, and pushed through turbines to generate electricity. The plants can regenerate as much as 80% of the electricity they use, researchers say.

The research team has identified two potential sites for compressed air generation plants – one sits north of Boardman, OR, on the Washington side of the Columbia River and could house a conventional compressed air facility due to its proximity to a natural gas pipeline.

The other, located 10 miles north of Selah, WA, has no access to natural gas and would require geothermal energy to power a chiller to keep the air compressors cool and efficient, as well as reheat the air when it’s released to the surface.

The stored power would be especially useful during the spring, when melting snow and a large amount of wind (which often blows at night when power demand is low) offer more renewable energy resources than the region can utilize.

The performance and economic data from the study will now aid an in-depth analysis of the technology’s net benefits to the Pacific Northwest.