Alphabet makes move into energy storage

Posted on 15 Aug 2017 by Michael Cruickshank

Technology conglomerate Alphabet has revealed that it is actively investigating new methods of storing energy.

Renewable energy such as wind power suffers from intermittant generation capacity. Image courtesy of Wikipedia - Chris Lim.
Renewable energy such as wind power suffers from intermittent generation capacity. Image courtesy of Wikipedia – Chris Lim.

The company’s special projects division, known as ‘X’, has been working on a number of so-called ‘Explorations’, including one called Malta, which is aiming to find a radical new way to store the energy generated by renewable power.

Currently renewable energy is increasingly cheap, however, the power it produces is intermittent, dependant on when the sun is shining or the wind blowing.

What X is attempting to achieve is a time-shift of this energy, from when it is produced, to a later period when it is needed.

“With no clean, cost-effective technology for storing renewable energy […], the amount of renewable energy the grid can handle could be capped, and the growth of renewable energy over the next decade could stagnate,” X explains in a press release on the Malta project.

Molten salt technology

Over the past 2 years, the Malta project has worked on a new concept for the storage of energy using large tanks of molten salts.

Within their system, excess electricity generated by renewable energy could be used to heat large tanks of molten salt, while simultaneously cooling large tanks of anti-freeze solution.

Later when this energy is in demand, the hot and cold fluids can be reconverted into electrical energy using a heat engine.

In theory, this kind of energy storage should be several times cheaper than pre-existing technologies such as the large arrays of lithium-ion batteries built by Tesla.

Until now this concept has only existed in concept drawings and small experiments, however now Alphabet has expressed a willingness to build a full-scale test to demonstrate the technology.

With that in mind, the company is looking for industry partners to work with it on the construction of a megawatt-scale energy storage facility.

At this stage, however, it is unclear if Alphabet wishes to actually move into the energy storage market and build these systems itself, or if it simply plans to license its technology to utility companies.