One of the biggest challenges facing the renewable energy industry is the inconsistency of the power that renewables supply.

If conditions are good, wind, sun and sea may generate more electricity than the grid can take, but at other times they may not produce enough.

One solution to this problem is to store up surplus renewable power, so it can be released when it is needed. And British company Highview Power Storage have come up with a new way of doing this, using a resource that is all around us - air.

Using off peak electricity - which could come from a wind or solar farm - Highview’s pilot plant cools and compresses air to -196°C, the temperature at which air’s main component, nitrogen, becomes liquid. This liquid is then stored in tanks, and when electricity is needed again the liquid air is warmed up, causing it to expand and drive a turbine.

The plant effectively operates as a battery, and at a commercial scale could be used to make renewable power sources more reliable, and more competitive with fossil fuels.

Unlike other energy storage devices, liquid air plants could be located anywhere, and they use existing, affordable technology.

Smitha Mundasad is in Slough, UK, to see how liquid air storage technology could help make the most of renewable energy.

earthrise can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Tuesday: 2230; Wednesday: 0930; Thursday: 0330; Friday: 1630; Saturday: 2230; Sunday: 0930; Monday: 0330; Tuesday: 1630. 

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