Vistra pairs thermal energy storage with natural gas for grid reliability


US utility Vistra, solutions firm Malta and the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) have secured a Department of Energy (DoE) grant to study how thermal energy storage systems can be used to optimise the performance of natural gas-powered power plants.

Malta will provide its thermal energy storage solution for integration with Vistra’s natural gas plant to ensure the reliability of the grid during times when demand is high.

The thermal energy storage system will store energy generated by Vistra during times when demand is low and release it for use during times when demand is high. The thermal storage system will convert and store excess energy from Vistra’s power plant in the form of heat and then convert it it back to electricity for demand response purposes.

The study is expected to help Vistra to diversify its energy mix and integrate its energy network with more capacity from renewables.

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As utilities in the US retire fossil-fuel energy generation, less polluting energy resources such as natural gas and renewable energies are expected to be adopted at a faster pace.

However, energy companies continue to struggle with meeting baseload demand using emerging generation solutions. This is where long-duration storage solutions like thermal energy storage come in.

Malta claims its Pumped Heat Energy System is capable of storing electricity for up to 200 hours, with initial systems focused on current market applications for 10-12 hours of storage.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, natural gas is the leading fuel source in the US electricity sector, representing 39% of all electricity generated in 2020 and approximately 30% of utility and independent power producer generation units.

Pairing natural gas generation with thermal energy storage is expected to help the US accelerate its energy transition, mitigate climate change, build the foundation of a sustainable future and at the same addressing current energy demands.

Ramya Swaminathan, Malta’s CEO, said: “We are proud to collaborate with Vistra as it works to achieve aggressive net-zero carbon emissions goals and to expand our relationship with SwRI, one of the premier research organizations in the country.”

Molly Sorg, Vistra’s chief purpose and sustainability officer, adds: “Vistra sees immense value in the increased research and development of new, longer-duration energy storage technologies, which will play a crucial role in grid reliability, balancing the intermittency of the power produced by renewable resources. We’re proud to work with Malta and SwRI to advance innovative solutions for a global energy transition.”

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Nicholas Nhede is an experienced energy sector writer based in Clarion Event's Cape Town office. He has been writing for Smart Energy International’s print and online media platforms since 2015, on topics including metering, smart grids, renewable energy, the Internet of Things, distributed energy resources and smart cities. Originally from Zimbabwe, Nicholas holds a diploma in Journalism and Communication Studies. Nicholas has a passion for how technology can be used to accelerate the energy transition and combat climate change.