I just got back from a trip last week to Edmonton, Alberta, where I visited a startup called Lancaster Wind. I’ve been following this company for over a year now, but only recently has its founder and CEO — Dave McConnell — started talking about his approach to storing huge amounts of energy in the same pipelines used to carry oil and natural gas. You can read about it in my Clean Break column today, as well as in two stories recently written in the Edmonton Journal, here and here.
The basic idea is that specially designed hydraulic wind turbines are used to compress nitrogen into existing gas or oil pipeline infrastructure, some of it unused throughout North America. Several hundred, even thousand, kilometres of pipeline could be filled with nitrogen and kept under pressure, in effect becoming a kind of massive nitrogen battery for wind. When electricity needs to be generated anywhere along the pipeline, the nitrogen gas is released and expands to turn a turbine that generates electricity. Wind, under this setup, suddenly becomes dispatchable and has baseload characteristics. Also, the pipeline eliminates the need for transmission lines.
There’s still much to learn about Lancaster’s approach, but it’s an intriguing idea that in my mind is worth investigating. Some questions: Can these pipelines handle the expansion/compression cycles over time? How efficient would the process be? Can such a small company pull off such an ambitious feat? How does it compete with other options, such as compressed-air cavern storage or pumped storage or even flow batteries?