Energy storage technology considers county for facility

The world is using more energy every day and creating and harnessing energy isn’t the problem — it’s storing what is harnessed and feeding it back into the power system to make power grids everywhere more efficient.

New technology has been introduced by Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES), a Santa Barbara, Calif. company, using an electric rail car system to store excess energy from renewable energy sources and release it to the power grid in times of high demand.

The technology was recently demonstrated on a small scale at the wind farms in Tehachapi, Calif. ARES is considering Nye County as a location to build a full-scale facility.

ARES Chief Operating Officer Francesca Cava said the company has yet to determine a location. “We have several options and haven’t picked one yet,” she said.

Once a location is decided, the permitting process for such a facility could take longer than 18 months. Cava said wherever they decide to build, “It will depend on how negotiations with the BLM go.”

County development spokesperson Eileen Christensen of Becht Environmental said there are many issues the Bureau of Land Management considers before issuing a permit, such as desert habitat, artifacts, natural resources, existing mining claims and other things. Christensen works with the county on development prospects.

ARES uses rail cars, gravity and a conductor rail to gather, store and release energy without using natural resources such as water to achieve its goal.

An article on the website states, “Because the system doesn’t rely on the use of water ... the technology is suitable for a wider variety of areas with minimal environmental impact.”

The technology is described as “a grid-scale fly wheel” able to synchronize with the power grid and provide heavy inertia for added grid stability.

Currently, the most effective and widely-used energy storage comes from pumped storage projects, where two water reservoirs at different elevations are used with a series of pumps and tunnels to move water from one elevation to the other.

During low demand, water is pumped to the upper reservoir, when demand increases, the water is released into the tunnel system and passes through turbines to generate electricity.

The efficiency rate of a pumped storage facility is about 70 percent. ARES can increase that to 86 percent “and respond to increases and decreases in power demand in a matter of seconds.”

The rail system can be used with solar and wind facilities using low demand times to push the rail cars up the grade and releasing them in peak times. The power would be regulated using regenerative braking.

The project would create over 300 jobs and construction would take “years.”

Another added benefit to the addition of these facilities is to increase manufacturing labor required to build the system components.