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Liquid air set to breathe new life into UK energy industry

09 May 2013

New report claims 'liquid air' energy storage medium for renewables could spawn a £1bn industry and create 22,000 UK jobs.

Liquid air is a proven energy storage technology that could play a critical role in Britain’s low carbon energy future. This is the claim of a new report from the Centre for Low Carbon Futures (CLCF), which says the use of liquid air for grid-based energy storage could increase UK energy security, cut greenhouse gas emissions and create a new industry worth at least an annual £1bn plus 22,000 UK jobs.

With ‘wrong-time’ energy from renewable generation a growing challenge to the electricity grid, there is real demand for affordable large scale energy storage technology, both in the UK and abroad.

The report highlights the opportunity for a nation-wide network of liquid air energy storage plants that are charged by surplus energy at night, feeding the energy back into the system when it is needed most during the day. The plants would be built from standard industrial equipment and technologies in which the UK is a world leader.

The lead author of the CLCF report, University of Birmingham pro-vice chancellor, Professor Richard Williams says solving Britain’s energy crisis requires better ways to store the power of the wind and the sun at large scale without relying on scarce natural resources, and liquid air provides a missing piece of that puzzle. 

“We have an opportunity, and growing need, to scale up our investment in technologies that will ensure the energy from renewables is not wasted, and the opportunities for the UK industrial sector are not lost," he adds. 

The report was launched on Thursday (9 May) at a special conference on liquid air energy storage held at the Royal Academy of Engineering in London.

One of the leading exponents of utility scale liquid air energy storage technology is Highview Power Storage, which has been working on a 350kW/2.5MWh pilot scale application hosted at Scottish and Southern Energy's 80MW biomass plant on the Slough trading estate in Berkshire.

As the RAE conference got underway, the company issued an announcement reporting its involvement in two multi-MW projects that have now successfully reached the feasibility stage of DECC’s Energy Storage Technology Demonstration Competition. A total of 12 projects have been selected under the first phase of this competition, which was launched in October last year.

The first of these sees Highview joining National Grid and engineering contractor, Costain in a fully integrated liquid air energy storage plant of up to 6MW output hosted by National Grid’s Grain Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) site on the Isle of Grain in Kent. The plant would have around five hours of operation (30MWhs), making it the largest demonstration of new energy storage technology in the UK.

As Simon Fairman, head of development at National Grid’s Grain LNG unit explains, the Grain LNG import terminal is an ideal location for a project of this nature as Highview’s system can make use of the process when LNG is turned back into gas to enter the gas network. "This helps make our import terminal and Highview’s system more efficient as well as saving money,” Mr Fairman adds.

The second of Highview's joint projects is with recycling and waste management specialist, Viridor, who will host a ‘CryoGenset’ (of up to 5MW and around 20MWh) alongside a landfill gas generation plant in Canterbury. 

CryoGenset, a proprietary zero emission alternative to a diesel genset, sees the liquefaction and power recovery at separate locations (with truck delivery from an industrial gas liquefaction plant to the storage tank/power recovery unit). It can, when operating, capture waste heat from the land-fill gas engine exhaust and convert it to power.

Gareth Brett, CEO of Highview Power Storage said: “This is a great opportunity to showcase a British innovation that has the potential to make a major contribution in terms of helping balance electricity systems in the future. The two projects demonstrate the flexibility and range of the technology which is equally suitable for daily cycling energy storage or providing reserve services and back-up but with zero emissions.”

Preparing for the new gTLDs
In a surprising move, Google appears to have been busy preparing for the launch of the new gTLDs (generic top-level domains) by updating their search indexing systems (the mysterious 'algorithm') in the past few days to start treating more top level domains on the same basis.

Previously they had given more weight to generic searches to those optimised websites that use the most popular gTLDs, such as com, net, org and info, comments Stuart Fuller, director of commercial operations and communications at NetNames. They have now widened the pool of domain suffixes that they consider 'generic', to include the likes of .dj, .fm, .la, .me and .tv.

In total, Google has applied the change to 20 country code top level domains, some of which - such as the five mentioned above - are considered as generic by many due to their 'vanity' aspect.

The change to these 20 means that when analysing a website, any website using them will not be deemed as 'localised' and thus will appear in more search ranking results.

The likes of .co and .me have long considered themselves to be more than just ccTLDs (country code top-level domains) and so this search index change will be a welcome boost to brands that decided to invest in these top level domains rather than try to buy an expensive gTLD on the secondary market.

In Mr Fuller's view, what this undoubtedly means is that they will be creating a process ready for the launch of the generic, open new gTLDs when they start delegation later in the summer.

You can be sure, he says, that once Google goes down this route, the value in these new gTLDs will increase significantly.

NetNames released new research on Thursday (May 9) demonstrating that the majority of UK businesses are failing to prepare for the changing nature of the internet and the introduction of gTLDs. The survey polled 100 business directors in UK enterprises (minimum turnover of £5m) and explored their views on the value of online assets. 

In its research, NetNames found 99 percent of respondents feel domain names are important to their brand’s internet presence, reflecting the significance of maintaining a company’s visibility on the web.

However, despite domain names being rated as one of the most valuable online assets owned by a brand, the research reveals that most businesses are still unprepared for the introduction of gTLDs, which signify the biggest change to the internet addressing system since its inception.

Moreover, one in three organisations admits to not knowing what a gTLD is, and 62 percent of businesses have no plans to apply for a new domain name ending. 

With the number of internet suffixes, such as .com, .net and .org, set to dramatically  increase over the next 12 months, NetNames believes its survey demonstrates the need for executives to rethink domain name management before the introduction of gTLDs later this year.

When questioned about the potential benefits that new domain name extensions offer, 37 percent of executives think gTLDs will provide a stronger online presence, 36 percent believe they will increase revenue opportunities and 28 percent think gTLDs will lead to greater engagement with customers.

Even so, just four percent of businesses have applied for a gTLD and only six percent are planning to. NetNames CCO, Simon Jackson is in no doubt about the importance of these changes to businesses.

“The online world is about to undergo a major transformation," he says. "Once new domain endings come into effect, it will take one organisation - with a strong digital strategy and enough consumer sway - to take the lead in demonstrating the value of gTLDs and educating consumers. As a result, organisations need to develop an online policy that ensures businesses can take advantage of the opportunities that the web offers.”

So, how can brands prepare for the changes?

“To truly benefit from the introduction of new domains, businesses need to identify the extensions that will have the greatest impact on their online footprint and be most relevant to their customer-base on a global basis," says Mr Jackson.

"By purchasing those web addresses that provide business value and streamline domain name portfolios, savvy brands will use the introduction of gTLDs to strengthen their internet presence. However, early-preparation is key and those businesses that act early will be ahead of the game and in a much better position to defend their online brand in a competitive web environment.”

Les Hunt

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