Could abandoned mines be a viable means of storing energy?


US utilities may soon have a new, easily adoptable source of energy storage and peak demand balancing capacity. 

That’s the hope of a project jointly undertaken in the US’ Lake Superior region by the Michigan Technological University and the city of Neguanee in the states Marquette County.

The university and the city are planning a pilot at the Mather B Mine site, and hope to see if pumped hydroelectric storage can be profitably used in surrounding communities, and help balance the grid during peak demand periods. Marquette county has approximately 200 underground mine sites.

Roman Sidortsov, an assistant professor of energy policy at the University said the revolutionary part of the study is its underground location.

“If we move the entire system below ground and make it self-contained, there would be no effect on surface water flow, ecological systems or landscapes or scenic views,” Sidortsov said. “An underground pumped hydro storage system might be essentially invisible.”

Negaunee City Manager Nate Heffron emphasised the support of the study by local officials. “Discovering a way to return these places to productive industrial use, providing jobs and lowering energy costs, while also preserving or enhancing the historical fabric of our community — this is an amazing opportunity for us all,” he said.

City officials plan to consult with community members and other important stakeholders as part of the project design process