Summary: The phasing out of nuclear power plants and the expansion of solar and wind energy mean that electricity production is becoming more volatile. New storage systems are needed to ensure that electricity is available as and when it is required.
A promising technology for this purpose is adiabatic compressed air storage. It uses excess electricity from solar and wind energy systems to compress ambient air and store it in an underground cavity. When it is required, the compressed air is expanded again, driving a turbine and generating electricity once more. As the heat which was generated during compression is used for this process, the efficiency level stands at 65% to 75%, which is similar to that achieved by pumped-storage systems. The environmental compatibility of compressed air energy storage (CAES), in terms of the potential for emitting greenhouse gases and the damage inflicted on ecosystems, is also comparable to that of pumped-storage systems.
CAES systems are technically feasible. Important components such as turbomachinery and heat accumulators are either already available on the market or have been tested in a pilot plant. The process for constructing cavities is also well-developed due to the experience gained in tunnel and cavern construction.
Adiabatic CAES therefore represents an efficient, environmentally friendly and technically feasible storage solution. Due to the high capital costs and the unclear economic and legal framework conditions, however, it is uncertain whether they can be economically viable. This also complicates the financing of a demonstration plant.
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