October 20, 2008

Compressed air gives solar a sunny outlook

Couple photovoltaic electricity generation with compressed air energy storage and you've got an on-demand power source that's cheaper than natural-gas-powered electricity.

A study of photovoltaic and compressed air storage performance and sunlight levels in the US Southwest shows that photovoltaics could become a large-scale, on-demand source of electricity that costs less than electricity from natural gas powerplants by 2020, and possibly sooner, depending on fossil fuel and carbon prices.

Solar electric power is intermittent; it's generated during the day but not at night. Researchers are working on ways to store solar electricity so solar-generated electricity can flow day and night and more heavily during peak use. Compressed air energy storage uses off-peak electricity to compress air in underground caverns and uses the compressed air -- heated by natural gas -- to drive turbines to convert the stored energy back to electricity.

Research paper:
Coupling PV and CAES Power Plants to Transform Intermittent PV Electricity into a Dispatchable Electricity Source
Progress in Photovoltaics, published online October 6, 2008

Researchers' homepages:
Vasilis Fthenakis
Ken Zweibel

Further info:
Solar Grand Plan: Solar As a Solution -- the researchers' proposal for wide-scale solar electric adoption

Back to ERN October 20/27, 2008



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