Lift Energy Storage Technology involves transforming tall buildings into batteries that can provide power for urban settings. (Image Credit: Energy (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.energy.2022.124102)
Now that renewable energy generation costs are decreasing, demand for energy storage technologies, which could provide balance for energy demand and supply, has also increased. Researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) unveiled a new energy storage solution that transforms tall buildings into batteries, boosting power quality in urban areas.
Global renewable technologies, including wind turbines, solar panels, and others, have been increasing energy generation capacity over the last few years. Plus, worldwide renewable energy capacity could increase by over 60% from 2020 levels by 2026. Those are very similar to the global power capacity of fossil fuels and nuclear. The International Energy Agency says that renewables could account for nearly 95% of the global power capacity increase through 2026. Switching to a low- or zero-carbon society requires alternative energy storage solutions.
The team's proposal involves a gravitational storage solution utilizing lifts and vacant apartments in tall buildings for energy storage. Called Lift Energy Storage Technology (LEST), this concept stores energy via lifting high-density materials, such as wet sand, which rely on a trailer device to transport them autonomously in and out of a lift. More investments or space occupancy aren't required since these tall buildings already have installed lifts. The building owner and power grid could certainly benefit from this solution due to the added value.
"I have always been fascinated with topics involving potential energy; in other words, generating energy with changes in altitude, such as hydropower, pumped storage, buoyancy, and gravity energy storage. The concept of gravity energy storage has also recently received significant attention in the scientific community and start-ups. The concept of LEST came to me after having spent a considerable amount of time going up and down in a lift since recently moving into an apartment on the 14th floor," explains lead author Julian Hunt, a researcher in the IIASA Sustainable Service Systems Research Group.
However, the power capacity cost poses a challenge for producing a gravity energy storage solution. One crucial advantage of LEST is that the lifts are installed with regenerative braking systems. Currently, over 18 million lifts are operating around the world, with the majority mostly staying idle. So these can ultimately store or generate energy when people aren't being transported by the lifts.
Some details must be refined before deploying this new system. For starters, there needs to be room for the system's weights, which go at the top of the building after the system gets fully charged and at the bottom once it's discharged. Empty rooms or halls would be advantageous for such a purpose. Then, the ceiling needs to provide sufficient support (kilograms per square meter) for the system without collapsing.
"Environmentally friendly and flexible storage technologies like LEST are set to become more and more valuable to society in a future where a large share of its electricity comes from renewables. Therefore, policymakers and power system regulators need to adopt strategies to incentivize end-users, in this case, high-rise buildings, to share their distributed storage resources, such as LEST, with the central grid. The coordinated utilization of such distributed resources alleviates the need for investment in large-scale central storage systems," concludes study coauthor Behnam Zakeri, a researcher in the IIASA Integrated Assessment and Climate Change Research Group.
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