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New Power Storage System for Offshore Wind Uses Giant Underwater Spheres

The design for a new method of storing energy from offshore wind farms uses giant concrete spheres on the sea floor, which could both anchor floating wind turbines and smooth out power fluctuations to the grid.

The new underwater storage design, from researchers at MIT, could be used to capture excess power from offshore wind turbines, and then release it on demand, helping to bridge the difference between generation and demand times for electricity.

“Whenever the wind turbines produce more power than is needed, that power would be diverted to drive a pump attached to the underwater structure, pumping seawater from a 30-meter-diameter hollow sphere. (For comparison, the tank’s diameter is about that of MIT’s Great Dome, or of the dome atop the U.S. Capitol.)

Later, when power is needed, water would be allowed to flow back into the sphere through a turbine attached to a generator, and the resulting electricity sent back to shore.” – MIT

According to the researchers
, a sphere with a 25 meter diameter, installed 400 meters deep under the water, could handle up to 6 MW hours of energy, and in contrast to other alternatives, such as coal or nuclear plants, can be put online or taken offline within minutes. They could also be used for energy storage for other intermittent renewable energy sources, such as solar, or to supplement other base-load power plants.

The spheres would be fabricated with 3 meter thick concrete walls, which would be heavy enough to keep them on the floor of the sea, even when empty, and could be cast on land and towed to their location with a bespoke barge. According to MIT, a preliminary estimate for the cost of just one sphere would reach about $12 million (USD), yielding a cost per kilowatt hour of about 6 cents (USD), a figure said to be considered viable by utilities.

The details of the concrete sphere energy storage concept are published in IEEE Transactions: Ocean Renewable Energy Storage (ORES) System: Analysis of an Undersea Energy Storage Concept

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