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British Gas owner backs £300m ‘liquid air’ energy project

national grid
national grid

The owner of British Gas has backed a pioneering plan to build the UK’s first commercial energy storage project to use liquid air in a £300m fundraising.

Highview Power has revealed Centrica is among a consortium of investors that are supporting its proposal, alongside the UK Infrastructure Bank, mining giant Rio Tinto and Goldman Sachs.

Centrica put £70m into the fundraising, the company said.

The money will help to finance construction of a 50 megawatt energy storage facility in Carrington, on the outskirts of Manchester, capable of running for six hours by 2026.

It will work by compressing air into a liquid and then cooling it to temperatures of almost -200C.

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The air will be stored in insulated tanks at low pressure. When power is needed it will be drawn from the tanks and heated up so it expands, resulting in a high-pressure gas that powers a turbine.

The novel technology has been developed by UK-based Highview and is seen as a highly promising form of long-duration energy storage.

Experts say large amounts of energy storage will be needed as countries move away from readily-dispatchable gas or coal-fired power stations to intermittent sources of energy such as wind and solar farms, which do not always generate energy when it is needed most.

Highview’s Carrington facility will help the National Grid balance the system by drawing power or supplying it when needed.

Construction is set to begin “immediately” with the work expected to create 700 jobs.

It comes after the company successfully proved the concept with a pilot 5 megawatt plant in Pilsworth, nearby in Bury.

Highview also hopes the new facility will prove to be another stepping stone towards building even bigger, 2.5 gigawatt facilities elsewhere around the UK.

The company is exploring whether it could build energy storage schemes for wind farm giant Ørsted.

The National Grid’s Electricity System Operator has said a total of 13 gigawatts of long-duration storage will be needed by 2035.

Richard Butland, Highview’s co-founder and chief executive, told the Telegraph: “This has been in development for almost 17 years and it will be one of the largest long-duration energy storage projects being built globally.

“So it’s a huge step forward in technology, for Britain and for decarbonisation.”

Chris O’Shea, chief executive of Centrica, said: “The energy transition is an opportunity that could transform lives across the UK.

“But with a changing energy mix, and more intermittency from renewables, we have to explore new, innovative ways to store energy so our customers have electricity available when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.

“Low carbon storage is an essential part of the solution when looking at how we manage peaks in demand.”