HOUSTON - While the country talks more, and more, about 'renewable energy, some critics complain that things like wind and solar energy are not reliable enough to meet demands. A Houston company believes the answer may lie in storing the energy until it's needed.
It could happen in places like a quiet Liberty County cow pasture, which sits atop a common feature along the Gulf Coast and other parts of the country. Vast deposits of salt, thousands of feet deep, were deposited by ancient seas.
The Houston area is dotted with these salt domes, with empty spaces bigger than the tallest skyscraper, that have been used for decades to store pressurized natural gas and crude oil. Now, there's a different idea.
Art Gelber helped found the Renewable Energy Storage Company, as an addition to his career representing oil and gas interests. He thinks anyone who ignores renewable energy runs the risk of becoming obsolete.
"Our belief is that, in one of these pressurized domes, we can store enough electricity to power a small city; to power several neighborhoods, for possibly three weeks," he says.
The idea seems simple enough. Windmills would power air compressors that would pump air into the salt dome. When it's needed, like a battery, the pressurized air would be released to power a generator that would feed electricity onto the grid.
The concept has been proven on a small scale, but Gelber believes the time is right to go big.
"People want clean, intelligent, sustainable infrastructure," he says, "They didn't want that two generations ago. Now they do."
The first step is building a Houston area 'demonstration' facility, in the next 6 to 8 months. If it works, it could solve the challenge of providing wind and solar energy whenever it's needed.