Tag Archives: Lancaster Wind

Large-scale storage of wind energy using compressed nitrogen and old pipelines… Could it work?

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?

Stay tuned…

Gamesa now teams up with Catch The Wind

Catch The Wind Inc. is on a roll.  It was only last month that it announced a large field trial of its Vindicator wind sensor with Canadian Hydro Developers, Canada’s largest independent wind developer. To follow that up, it is now reporting the formation of a collaborative R&D project with Gamesa, Spain’s biggest wind-turbine manufacturer and one of the top manufacturers in the world. Just to recap, the Vindicator is a sensor that can detect wind speeds and direction up to 1,000 metres away, giving a wind turbine’s control system enough time to adjust blades and nacelle position accordingly. Over time, this improves the efficiency of the turbine and reduces wear on components and blades. Gamesa has agreed to mount the Vindicator on one of its operating 2-megawatt turbines at a yet-to-be-announced wind farm in the United States. Phil Rogers, Catch The Wind’s CEO, called the partnership a “significant breakthrough.”

It’s often said there’s not much more innovation that can take place around wind technology, aside from tinkering at the edges, and that the big manufacturers have no incentive to change a formula works. But this teaming up of Gamesa and Catch The Wind shows that innovation is alive and strong and that even the majors, like Gamesa, are looking for ways to distinguish themselves in the market. Complacency is no longer an option. Others, including WhalePower, ExRo Technologies, Earthtronics, FloDesign, and secretive Lancaster Wind Energy are also raising the bar on what we can expect from wind technology over the coming years.