Abandoned Quarries Headed to Become Energy-Storage Hubs in U.K.

A U.K. company plans to turn abandoned quarries and mines into energy-storage facilities that can absorb power from intermittent sources such as the sun and wind for use when demand peaks.

The company’s first project, in North Wales, won planning consent Sept. 2 and is budgeted at about 100 million pounds ($160.8 million), according to David Holmes, managing director of London-based Quarry Battery Company Ltd. Construction on the and 50-megawatt facility should commence in about 18 months.

In times of power surplus, the plants pump water uphill to the basins for storage. When demand returns, water is released through turbines to generate electricity, similar to hydroelectric plants. Storage can be used to help balance supply and demand as Britain aims for 15 percent of its energy to come from unpredictable renewable sources by 2020.

“The more and more renewable energy we have the more and more we need to be able to store it and manage its flexibility and its intermittency,” Holmes said. “We think there is a changing market, and there is more room in this market now for new ‘pumped storage.’ The economics have changed.”

Quarry Battery will likely sell its first site fully permitted for another company to build, Holmes said in a telephone interview. It has received interest from energy companies, energy traders and pension funds both in the U.K. and internationally. The company should be ready to approach them in about 18 months to two years, he said.

Pumping Water

While pumping water uphill has aided in power generation for more than 100 years, the technology is limited to mountainous terrain. Environmentalists have criticized those sites for being harmful to local wildlife, prompting developers to look for alternatives. Quarry Battery’s use of old mines and quarries for smaller projects would be less disrupting to the environment than projects that require more construction.

As the developer moves its first project through the development process it will also look to secure other pockets of land that suit its storage facilities, Holmes said. It may sell sites in the future or it may retain a portion of each one, he said.

The company is raising about 3 million pounds and it has received interest from venture capital companies and so-called angel investors, Holmes said. The first project is scheduled to start operating by the end of 2017.