Gaelectric Holdings Plc, the Dublin-based developer, is in discussions with infrastructure investors for a 300 million-pound ($466 million) project in Northern Ireland to store surplus energy from wind turbines.
Gaelectric plans to form partnerships with investors by the end of the year to build the venture near Larne, County Antrim, Chief Executive Officer Brendan McGrath said today in an interview. He outlined the plans after the developer opened its Carn Hill wind farm nearby in Newtownabbey.
Gaelectric’s storage project seeks to solve the problem associated with wind and solar plants which generate power intermittently unlike so-called baseload that produces power round-the-clock. The U.K. is seeking to spur energy storage technologies that allow more of the renewable power it’s relying on to curb emissions and boost supplies to be built.
“I would consider storage to be an enabling technology,” McGrath said by phone from Belfast. “It allows more renewables on to the system and helps manage the inconsistency of wind, so essentially what you are doing is providing ancillary services to the system.”
Gaelectric’s plant will use excess electricity from turbines to power a motor that will drive a compressor to store air in an underground salt cavern. When demand is high, the air is released to run a turbine generating power, burning some natural gas at the same time to boost output.
The project will generate 268 megawatts and cost about 270 million to 300 million pounds, McGrath said. It may use three to four salt caverns each about 80 meters (262 feet) deep and the same in circumference, McGrath said. He aims to get European Union funding for the venture, designated as a project of common interest by the 27-member bloc. The U.K.’s Green Investment Bank could also be a candidate to supply funds, he said.
Larne is the only place in Northern Ireland with salt deposits potentially suitable for storing compressed air, according to Gaelectric. The salt resources deep in the earth can be used as air-tight caverns required for storage, it said.
Gaelectric is boosting operations in Northern Ireland as the province targets 40 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2020 from 12.6 percent at the end of 2011, according to data on the Department of Energy and Climate Change website.