Rechargeable batteries are ideal for cell phones and electric cars, but for large amounts of energy, to overcome shortages in the power grid, they are not the best solution. What other options are available to us today?
Pumped-storage hydroelectric plants play the biggest role in the European grid. In Germany alone, the installed capacity is now seven gigawatts. The alpine countries, Austria and Switzerland, with their mountainous landscape, can meet their short-term energy needs with hydroelectric power.
However, their storage potential cannot be increased any further and the Alps cannot play the role of a 'battery' for all of Europe.
Norway and Sweden have many possible locations for new pumped-storage hydroelectric facilities, but the grid connections to central European consumers would be costly and have yet to be built.
"Flat coastal areas, where it is predicted that the largest demand for energy storage will be in the future, are unsuited to this technology," says Stefan Zunft from the DLR Institute of Technical Thermodynamics in Stuttgart.
Pumped-storage hydroelectric plants in disused opencast mines
German engineer Matthias Popp from Wunsiedel has proposed a solution to this problem. He has taken out a patent for a ring-wall facility, which would be suited for use as a pumped-storage hydroelectric facility in flat terrain.
Short term excess capacity on the grid could be used to pump water into a basin elevated 10 to 30 100 to 400 metres above ground and enclosed by a ring wall which would then drive turbines when released into the surrounding lake.
Disused opencast mines could be a good location for such facilities. Today, these are being turned into large lakes, but they could be supplemented with ring-wall islands in the future.
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