Study identifies two Northwest basalt rock caverns sites for storing energy

Interest in the technology has increased greatly in the past decade as utilities and others seek better ways to integrate renewable energy onto the power grid. About 13 percent, or nearly 8,600 megawatts, of the Northwest’s power supply comes from of wind. This prompted BPA and PNNL to investigate whether the technology could be used in the Northwest.
To find potential sites, the research team reviewed the Columbia Plateau Province, a thick layer of volcanic basalt rock that covers much of the region. The team looked for underground basalt reservoirs that were at least 1,500 feet deep, 30 feet thick and close to high-voltage transmission lines, among other criteria.
They then examined public data from wells drilled for gas exploration or research at the Hanford Site in southeastern Washington. Well data was plugged into PNNL’s STOMP computer model, which simulates the movement of fluids below ground, to determine how much air the various sites under consideration could reliably hold and return to the surface.
Two different, complementary designs

Researchers at PNNL and BPA have identified two possible sites in eastern Washington to build compressed air energy storage facilities that could temporarily store the Northwest’s excess wind power. Image courtesy of PNNL.
Analysis identified two particularly promising locations in eastern Washington. One location, dubbed the Columbia Hills Site, is just north of Boardman, Ore., on the Washington side of the Columbia River. The second, called the Yakima Minerals Site, is about 10 miles north of Selah, Wash., in an area called the Yakima Canyon.
In addition to identifying two locations that could support a compressed air energy storage facility, researchers also identified two different facility designs. Because the Columbia Hills Site could access a nearby natural gas pipeline, it was a good fit for a conventional compressed air energy facility that would burn a small amount of natural gas to heat compressed air that’s released from underground storage. The heated air would then generate more than twice the power than a typical natural gas power plant.
The Yakima Minerals Site, however, doesn’t have easy access to natural gas. So the research team devised a different kind of compressed air energy storage facility: one that uses geothermal energy. This hybrid facility would extract geothermal heat from deep underground to power a chiller that would cool the facility’s air compressors, making them more efficient. Geothermal energy would also re-heat the air as it returns to the surface.
“Combining geothermal energy with compressed air energy storage is a creative concept that was developed to tackle engineering issues at the Yakima Minerals Site,” said PNNL Laboratory Fellow and project leader Pete McGrail. “Our hybrid facility concept significantly expands geothermal energy beyond its traditional use as a renewable baseload power generation technology.”
The study indicates both facilities could provide energy storage during extended periods of time. This could especially help the Northwest during the spring, when sometimes there is more wind and hydroelectric power than the region can absorb. The combination of heavy runoff from melting snow and a large amount of wind, which often blows at night when demand for electricity is low, can spike power production in the region. Power system managers have a few options to keep the regional power grid stable in such a situation, including reducing power generation or storing the excess power supply. Energy storage technologies such as compressed air energy storage can help the region make the most of its excess clean energy production.
Working with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, BPA will now use the performance and economic data from the study to perform an in-depth analysis of the net benefits compressed air energy storage could bring to the Pacific Northwest. The results could be used by one or more regional utilities to develop a commercial compressed air energy storage demonstration project.
The $790,000 joint feasibility study was funded by BPA’s Technology Innovation Office, PNNL and other utility and industrial partners, including Seattle City Light, Snohomish County Public Utility District, Portland General Electric, Puget Sound Energy and Washington State University Tri-Cities.
Compressed air energy storage site details
Columbia Hills Site
  • Location: north of Boardman, Ore., on Washington side of Columbia River
  • Plant type: conventional, which pairs compressed air storage with a natural gas power plant.
  • Power generation capacity: 207 megawatts
  • Energy storage capacity: 231 megawatts for over two weeks
  • Estimated levelized power cost comparable to conventional natural gas generator
  • Would work well for frequent energy storage
  • Continuous storage for up to 40 days
Yakima Minerals Site
  • Location: 10 miles north of Selah, Wash.
  • Plant type: hybrid, which pairs geothermal heat with compressed air storage
  • Power generation capacity: 83 megawatts
  • Energy storage capacity: 150 megawatts for as long as needed
  • Estimated levelized power cost comparable to conventional geothermal
  • No greenhouse gas emissions
  • Potential for future expansion