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Technologically, the system “could have been developed in the 1920s, but there was no market for it then,” says Charles Forsberg, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and lead author of a research paper describing the plan, that appears this week in the .Forsberg points out that the demand for industrial heat in the U. and most industrialized regions is actually larger than the total demand for electricity.At a later time, the heat could be used directly for industrial processes, or it could feed generators that convert it back to electricity when the power is needed.The technology itself is old, but its potential usefulness is a new phenomenon, brought about by the rapid rise of intermittent renewable energy sources, and the peculiarities of the way electricity prices are set.At present, the options for storing excess electricity are essentially limited to batteries or pumped hydroelectric systems.By contrast, the low-tech firebrick thermal storage system would cost anywhere from one-tenth to one-fortieth as much as either of those options, Forsberg says.“In electricity markets such as Iowa, California, and Germany, the price of electricity drops to near zero at times of high wind or solar output,” Forsberg says.Once the amount of generating capacity provided by solar power reaches about 15 percent of the total generating mix, or when wind power reaches 30 percent of the total, building such installations can become unprofitable unless there is a sufficient storage capacity to absorb the excess for later use.
These bricks could easily give up that heat to cold air being blown through the mass to carry away the heat for industrial use.
Electricity prices are determined a day in advance, with a separate price for each one-hour segment of the day.
This is done through an auction system between the producers and the distributors of power.
While industrial process heat is viable at about 800 C, he says, the turbines need compressed air heated to at least 1,600 C.
Ordinary resistance heaters can’t go that high, and such systems will also need an enclosing pressure vessel to handle the needed air pressure.