BY RICHARD HEAP:
Javier Cavada joined Highview Power in September as CEO and president. Previously he spent 17 years in leadership positions at Wartsila Corporation, which has over 67GW installed power capacity globally, including as president of its energy division. We spoke to him about the company’s plans for the next few years.
What is Highview’s system and how does it work?
Highview Power was established in 2005 and has been working to make liquid-air energy storage the most competitive long-duration solution, and now is in the phase of global commercialisation. The technology has proven its reliability to store energy in a clean and low-cost process, enabling all available renewable power to be used on the grid. That was our goal since the start.
We have built two liquid-air storage plants in the UK – one at Slough Heat & Power in greater London and one at the Pilsworth Landfill outside Manchester that opened this summer – and they use proven technologies to take ambient air, cool it down, and it turns to liquid at -196°C. We then store it as liquid in tanks at very low pressure, where its volume as a liquid is around 800 times lower compared to ambient air. Then when you need to discharge it, you release the air and it rotates a turbine. Smart and simple.
We have been focused on making the system modular and more efficient. Highview’s technology is a game-changer because it closes the thermodynamic cycle and increases a standalone system’s efficiency from roughly 25% to about 60%-75%. We can also utilise waste heat and cold from other neighbouring processes to increase efficiency even further.
So you store liquid air and turn it into power later?
Yes, we have the flexibility over whether we build this as a 25MW, 50MW, 100MW or much larger system. You can add as many hours as you wish, and the cost of larger storage tanks is really negligible: you can make a five-hour or ten-hour or fifteen-hour system with very little cost difference, just by having bigger tanks or more of them. When you look at levelised cost, we offer the lowest-cost storage option for long duration systems at larger scales.
You can also modularise charging to be faster or slower, and it’s totally locatable so you can put it in a city, in an industrial park, next to wherever the energy is needed.
It has the advantages of pumped hydro and without its disadvantages. You don’t need the blessing of a mountain or to work through years of permitting.
And the goal is to enable the development of more renewable energy projects. Why?
Globally we have too little power or electricity coming from renewables, and one of the biggest challenges is how to store it. Lithium-ion batteries can do a great job with short-duration services, and their demand is only going to grow, but when it comes down to how to shift the whole solar array to the evening when it is most needed or when the wind isn’t blowing, we need the system to be dispatchable. We need to make solar and wind reliable like any baseload. And that is what our technology masters.
At the Pilsworth plant, our system is utilising and co-located with an existing biomass plant. It is showing how an assisting industry can benefit the whole renewables revolution. That is the plan, and that is the work that we’re looking for.
What are the plans for the next couple of years?
Last year over 500MW of batteries were being installed in the US, and we expect increased demand for storage due to renewables. My mission at Highview is to fully commercialise and internationalise our technology. Bringing it to the US is a priority.
The US is made up of many different and competitive markets and I want to make sure we’re getting our technology into the right places to maximise its benefits for people and the grid. For example, the entire US wind corridor will be a crucial area for us, our goal is to make wind power become the baseload.
And the same scenario is happening in Europe. In the UK we are developing several big projects that are 50MW in size with over five hours of stored power, meaning over 250MWh total. I expect to announce new landmark projects in the coming months. Any one of them would be a record size energy storage project: we would more than double the record 120MWh system in South Australia.
Additionally, our technology is not really competing with batteries, as our game is long duration, long-term and larger-scale. Its important to note that there is no degradation in the equipment and no need for replacement in our systems, therefore they can have multi-decades of service life.
Are you looking to partner with other companies?
I’m a firm believer in growth and partnerships. You cannot invent everything by yourself, and when your ambition is to grow you need to build on partners’ skills and capabilities. Our technology is ready. We are ready now, and renewables are already shouting and crying to get long-duration storage so they can really be fully utilised. As an example, countries like Spain have plenty of sunshine and wind and many megawatts of installed solar PV and wind turbines, but there is significant curtailment due to their intermittent nature, unfortunately. Storage technology is the key to solve this.
The market reaction since I joined Highview has only increased my enthusiasm. Developers, utilities, IPPs, everybody that I’ve been having discussions with, meeting and negotiating with are telling us: ‘Wow, this is very much needed and so simple.’ We can provide a completely renewable, reliable, cost competitive and clean power supply. It solves the complete equation. Allow me to smile and be super-optimistic for a better future. We are going to go global