Newsletter: When promises turn into projects

Canadian startup Hydrostor is making good on its promise to build a new storage technology at massive scale.

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Unconventional grid storage is a market especially rife with questionable claims and vaporware. 

There’s no shortage of people trying to dethrone King Lithium-Ion and corner the market for storing wind and solar power for hours and days. But sometimes, startups actually follow through on what they promise.

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When I first wrote about Hydrostor in 2017, the Canadian company was already talking about building storage plants at the massive scale of hundreds of megawatts. At the time, nobody was building grid batteries anywhere close to that size, and certainly not with long-duration capabilities.

Hydrostor fell into the bucket of go build a commercial project and let’s talk again in a couple of years.” But the company actually pulled it off. After operating its compressed-air storage technology in Ontario’s wholesale markets for multiple years, it is now developing a project in the 300- to 500-megawatt range, with up to 12 hours of duration, Canary Media reported.

To be clear, this project does not exist yet, and it likely wouldn’t be constructed until 2025. But Hydrostor was convincing enough about its prospects to win a 4 million Canadian dollar ($3.2 million) grant from the Canadian government to start the design and engineering work. This puts the company in the running to become a leading supplier of long-duration grid storage, not to mention a leader among the technologies vying to improve upon the dominant lithium-ion battery for storing clean power.

The speed to market comes from Hydrostor’s use of existing industrial machinery to excavate caverns and pump compressed air into them, which emerges to spin conventional 100-megawatt turbines. It’s a different path to market than, say, flow batteries, which have been fine-tuned in laboratories for literal decades and still haven’t made a dent in the marketplace. 

The long-duration storage market is shaping up to be a showdown between people inventing exotic breakthrough hardware and others who engineer around established industrial supply chains. We’ll see who wins the race to market.

And if you’re wondering what kind of money is on the line here, investors have made big bets on unconventional storage companies in recent months, including:

  • Norway’s EnergyNest raised $130 million earlier this month to commercialize its technology, which stores energy as heat in specially designed concrete, Energy Storage News reports.
  • Google spinoff Malta Energy raised a $50 million Series B round in February for thermal storage with both hot and cold components. Like Hydrostor, Malta’s technology piggybacks on mature supply chains.
  • Highview Power closed a $70 million growth capital round in February for its cryogenic air storage. It uses aboveground tanks to store compressed air, leveraging equipment from the oil and gas and power industries.

Today’s articles

Hydrostor is developing truly massive grid storage in watery caverns

Design work is beginning for a 500-megawatt project that could be online by 2025. Read more →

Green liberty’ bonds: The American way to win the war on climate change?

Taking a lesson from the World War II financing playbook to combat the climate crisis. Read more →

How transmission along railroads and highways could break open clean energy growth

High-voltage lines buried along road and rail rights of way could carry renewable power across the U.S. — if a lot of novel challenges can be overcome. Read more →

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Photo courtesy of Hydrostor.

Julian Spector is an editor at Canary Media and reports on the rise of clean energy. He worked at Greentech Media for nearly five years, and before that he reported for CityLab at The Atlantic.