Bill Gates leads $10M investment in Quidnet’s long-duration geomechanical pumped storage

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Quidnet Energy, a startup developing a long-duration energy storage technology, just closed on a $10 million series B financing round. Additionally, the firm announced a contract with the New York State Energy Development Authority (NYSERDA) for a 2 MW/20 MWh demonstration project of its geomechanical pumped storage (GPS) technology.

That’s ten hours of storage versus the four hours typical of the predominant lithium ion battery technology.

Existing investors Breakthrough Energy Ventures (founded by Bill Gates in 2015) and Evok Innovations participated in the round, along with new investors Trafigura and The Jeremy and Hannelore Grantham Environmental Trust.

Quidnet aims to develop an efficient cost-effective alternative to traditional pumped hydro.

The missing piece

True low-cost, long-duration energy storage has always been the missing piece in making intermittent wind and solar act like baseload thermal generation year-round.

Quidnet looks to use “excess” renewable energy to store pressurized-water under ground at dry oil and gas wells. The startup is aiming to work with electric utilities and deliver commercial-scale projects across the North American electric grid.

“Quidnet’s GPS technology is a novel form of hydroelectric energy storage. It uses time-tested well-drilling and construction technologies to pump water under pressure into subsurface geological reservoirs to store energy. When variable renewable energy is not available, this water is released to drive hydroelectric turbines to power the electric grid,” said Quidnet CEO Joe Zhou.

Zhou noted, in an interview with pv magazine that the company was “building off of known supply chains: pumping, wells, drilling, piping, etc.”

He added, “Today, the duration is ten hours but we can get to tens of hours, maybe hundreds of hours, dependent on the volume of the cavern.”

The New York project

The project in New York State will be 2 MW/20 MWh in size, supported through NYSERDA’s High Performing Grid Program. Chou adds, “The 2-MW project will be funded by NYSERDA with $2.5 million — we’ll contribute the other half.” The company suggests that “even at this modular scale, per-kilowatt installed costs are expected to be less than 50% of traditional pumped storage due to simpler civil construction scope.”

“Integrating renewables and replacing retiring thermal generation require cost-effective long- duration electricity storage at an immense scale,” said the CEO.

Mike Biddle, managing director at Evok Innovations said, “Because they are leveraging long understood geologic principles, we are confident that they can scale rapidly.”

Long duration energy storage players

While there’s been a lot of chatter about long-duration energy storage, other than pumped hydro, there’s been little in the form of commercial deployment. Companies that have pursued long-duration energy storage include:

  • Flow battery firms such as Primus, Invinity, Sumitomo, UET, ESS and ViZn
  • Gravity-based approaches such as Gravity Power, Ares Power, and Energy Vault
  • Compressed air or gas approaches such as Hydrostor and Highview Power
  • Whatever Form is doing: Form Energy has raised over $50 million in funding from Eni Next, MIT’s The Engine, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Macquarie Capital. Form’s first commercial project is a 1-MW, grid-connected storage system capable of delivering its rated power continuously for 150 hours with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy.