The days of a single dominant energy source are just about over. In the U.S., no one source provides a majority of the energy that is converted into electricity. Recent numbers put coal at the top of several sources. It is responsible for 45% of the electricity generated as of 2010. Moving forward, there will be a suite of energy sources (natural gas, possibly nuclear, hydroelectric dams, wind, and solar). However, the issues with the latter two are well documented. A recent start-up in northern California may have the answer. In what we like to refer to as the “holy grail” of energy, LightSail Energy is developing a storage system that may allow renewable, intermittent sources like solar and wind to be easily captured during off peak times and stored for later use during peak times.
Founded by wunderkind Danielle Fong, a 24 year old former doctoral student at Princeton, LightSail Energy uses compressed air to store excess electricity generated by wind and solar. For a description of their technology, click here. Fong, a recipient of Forbes Magazine’s Top 30 under 30 recognition for those in the energy sector, co-founded LightSail Energy.
LightSail employs a four-step, fully reversible process to store energy. By converting electricity into heat, the company aims to use compressed air to store energy produced during off-peak times. For instance, wind energy is produced at night more than the hottest times of the day. According to Fong, the big breakthrough in using compressed air for energy storage (which is not a new idea) is using water to prevent overheating. For a visual representation of the procedure, click here.
Whether LightSail can produce a scalable, cost effective way to save electricity generated by intermittent, renewable means remains to be seen. The search for the holy grail is never an easy one.