A new energy solution could help turn renewable energy into baseload power utilizing a Saskatchewan resource.

The Petroleum Technology Resource Centre recently published a white paper on Compressed Air Energy Systems and their potential in the province.

Director of Communications Norm Sacuta details the process.

"Compressed air energy storage is a kind of energy that can be produced to help offset itinerant sources of electricity. That is solar and wind when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing. It would be using a hollowed-out salt cavern and during peak times when you have more electricity than you need the power from itinerant sources like wind and solar would be used to power a compressor that would put air underground into that containment area."

Photo courtesy of PTRC white paperPhoto courtesy of PTRC white paper

"Then when you don't have wind and you don't have solar and you need power in a jiffy you would be able to release that compressed air up again through a turbine and produce electricity to help offset when you don't have enough power from those other sources. So it's a kind of green way of having base load energy when the wind isn't blowing and the sun isn't shining."

Sacuta says that the system has seen success in other places, with areas like Alabama and Germany being mentioned in the White Paper.

"They have done this. You know, you have to have the right geology and the thing is in Saskatchewan we have the right geology because of course we have huge areas of salt underground that can be hollowed out for storage of natural gas, which is what we've been doing for the last 50-60 years to store natural gas when we bring it in, but that same kind of formation could be used to store just air for release later, so we have the good geology for that."

While an exact cost for this system isn't yet determined, Sacuta believes it would be well below other alternatives.

"None of these energy sources that we're talking about for replacing natural gas or hydrocarbon electricity production are going to be inexpensive. A new small modular reactor could be $10 billion if we were to do that in order to eliminate emissions from hydrocarbon. This kind of a project would be probably less expensive than that it might be, you know, as little as 1 1/2 to 2 billion dollars overall to do a fairly large turbine which is basically what you pay for another natural gas power station."

Alternatives to current power generation also have a lengthy timeline, which Sacuta believes could be lowered with this alternative.

"First you'd have to get buy-in from the utility, which in Saskatchewan it's a crown corporation that produces the power. But once they agreed to it, because there are already several cleared-out salt caverns that exist in the province, if you could convert one of those existing ones, it wouldn't be a very long timeline at all. It might be three to four years to get one of these up and operating."

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