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Hydrostor Wants to Stash Energy in Underwater Bags

Submerged bags of air could turn wind and solar power into round-the-clock resources

4 min read
Hydrostor Wants to Stash Energy in Underwater Bags
In the Bag: Energy bags like this 5-meter-diameter one, from Thin Red Line Aerospace, of Canada, could be used to store electricity underwater as compressed air. Engineers hope the technology could one day smooth out the intermittency of electricity produced by offshore wind farms and other renewable energy sources.
Photo: Keith Thompson/Thin Red Line Aerospace

With the worldwide proliferation of wind- and solar-generated power, the fickleness of these renewable sources is a problem crying out for a good solution. A Canadian start-up called Hydrostor thinks it has an answer: air-filled bags.

In August, the Toronto company plans to sink several large balloonlike bags into Lake Ontario, and then, using electricity from Toronto Hydro’s grid to run a compressor, it will fill the bags with air. Later, when the utility needs electricity, the air will be emptied from the bags and run through a turboexpander, which uses the expanding air to drive a turbine. The result will be the world’s first commercial facility for underwater compressed-air energy storage. This animation from Hydrostor explains how its system works:

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Smokey the AI

Smart image analysis algorithms, fed by cameras carried by drones and ground vehicles, can help power companies prevent forest fires

7 min read
Smokey the AI

The 2021 Dixie Fire in northern California is suspected of being caused by Pacific Gas & Electric's equipment. The fire is the second-largest in California history.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

The 2020 fire season in the United States was the worst in at least 70 years, with some 4 million hectares burned on the west coast alone. These West Coast fires killed at least 37 people, destroyed hundreds of structures, caused nearly US $20 billion in damage, and filled the air with smoke that threatened the health of millions of people. And this was on top of a 2018 fire season that burned more than 700,000 hectares of land in California, and a 2019-to-2020 wildfire season in Australia that torched nearly 18 million hectares.

While some of these fires started from human carelessness—or arson—far too many were sparked and spread by the electrical power infrastructure and power lines. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) calculates that nearly 100,000 burned hectares of those 2018 California fires were the fault of the electric power infrastructure, including the devastating Camp Fire, which wiped out most of the town of Paradise. And in July of this year, Pacific Gas & Electric indicated that blown fuses on one of its utility poles may have sparked the Dixie Fire, which burned nearly 400,000 hectares.

Until these recent disasters, most people, even those living in vulnerable areas, didn't give much thought to the fire risk from the electrical infrastructure. Power companies trim trees and inspect lines on a regular—if not particularly frequent—basis.

However, the frequency of these inspections has changed little over the years, even though climate change is causing drier and hotter weather conditions that lead up to more intense wildfires. In addition, many key electrical components are beyond their shelf lives, including insulators, transformers, arrestors, and splices that are more than 40 years old. Many transmission towers, most built for a 40-year lifespan, are entering their final decade.

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