The state government of Lower Saxony Germany has quite possibly come up with an ingenious way to overcome the storage difficulties associated with wind energy â€“ they propose storing wind energy in abandoned coal mines inside the Harz Mountains.
This new form of wind storage uses wind energy to power turbines which pump water at the base of the mine shaft to the top. The water is then stored at the top until it is needed. When demand increases, the water is released back down the mineshaft (following the laws of gravity), to drive turbines at the bottom thus producing electricity. This is a closed loop system, meaning water used inside the mines does not pollute water in the nearby rivers.
The project has garnered praise from environmentalists, who see limited environmental impacts associated with the project. Not only does it utilize a clean, renewable energy source, but it does so in a non-intrusive way, since mines are located inside the mountain.
And the power that this proposed wind storage system intends on generating is nothing to sneeze at either. At a maximum capacity of 400MW, thereâ€™s enough capacity here to power 400,000 homes.
One of the things that make this project so groundbreaking is that it implements an effective way to store wind energy. One of the biggest challenges associated with the widespread adoption of wind energy is that it is very difficult to store. The problem is that wind energy generates electricity right away when the wind blows: the energy of the wind causes the turbines to spin, thus generating energy.
But when thereâ€™s no wind, thereâ€™s no energy â€“ also known as the problem of intermittency.
And any form of storage would usually require the construction of an above ground water reservoir or similarly obtrusive (or destructive) structure. This proposal in the Harz Mountains circumvents these storage problems in a creative way. It reappropriates a structure traditionally associated with the dirty fossil fuel coal and turns it into something clean and effective.
In my opinion this is exactly the kind of â€œoutside-of-the-boxâ€ thinking we need to implement future sustainability. Although this particular proposal for wind energy generation may be unique to the Harz Mountains, reconceptualising energy production can be done anywhere. And there certainly does seem to be support from the private sector, especially with companies as big as Google leading the way on clean energy investments.
What do you think are the biggest challenges faced with adopting clean energy? Do you think the successful completion of this project (if implemented) will encourage other innovative ideas elsewhere in the world?
Image CC licensed by Chripps: Harz Mountains, Germany