Architect behind the world’s tallest building to turn skyscrapers into giant energy storage batteries

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Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has partnered with Energy Vault to explore the idea of turning skyscrapers into giant energy storage batteries.

SOM is an American architectural, urban planning and engineering firm behind Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Energy Vault on the other hand is a Swiss-based, global energy storage company specialising in gravity and kinetic energy-based, long-duration energy storage products.

As per the agreement, SOM will be the exclusive architect and structural engineer for Energy Vault’s next-generation gravity energy storage systems (GESS). The company will incorporate the technology into tall buildings in urban areas and deployable structures in natural settings.

As a result, the Energy Vault’s technology will maximize sustainability, accelerate carbon payback, and lower the levelized cost of energy consumption.

How does the GESS technology work

While sustainable energy production is on the rise, with some experts predicting that it could soon offset the need for future oil and gas projects, efficiently storing all that energy could become the next challenge.

Also Read: Construction of Collie BESS, the largest battery storage in Australia begins

Green energy generation may also not coincide with the time the energy is needed the most, for example, the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine at exactly the time when people want to consume electricity. On some windy or sunny days, too much electricity, exceeding the immediate demand, is generated but the surplus is not utilized going therefore to waste. This is where energy storage systems come in handy.

The gravity energy storage systems however work differently from the traditional energy storage systems, the likes of batteries. During times when energy sources are producing excess electricity, the surplus is used to move objects in the form of water or sand, to a higher ground, turning them into potential energy. When the power supply is low, these objects can then be released from the higher ground powering turbines on their way down owing to gravitational force.

Incorporating the GESS technology into the design of tall buildings

Generally, gravity batteries take the form of reservoirs, however, abandoned mines are also being repurposed to power generators utilizing objects such as sand. The latest idea is to incorporate gravity batteries into the design of tall buildings.

This technology will give future skyscrapers multi-GWh of gravity-based energy storage, enough to power them and adjacent buildings. Incorporating the hydro system into buildings, according to the Energy Vault and SOM team will minimize disruption to wildlife ecosystems associated with other energy storage systems.

Also Read: Wärtsilä to deliver one of the largest energy storage systems in Scotland

Speaking on the partnership with Energy Vault, SOM’s managing partner said that since the company was founded, they have pushed the boundaries of architecture and engineering, redefining what buildings can do for cities and communities.

“This partnership with Energy Vault is a commitment not only to accelerate the world’s transition away from fossil fuels but also to explore, together, how the architecture of renewable energy can enhance our shared natural landscapes and urban environments.”

The practicality of Energy Vault GESS technology

The Lugano-based company has already proven that its GESS technology based on crane and waste blocks can be scaled up to store several gigawatt hours of energy through its multiple projects in the works across the globe.

In March 2023, the company completed the construction of Rudong 25-MW/100-MWh EVx gravity-based energy storage system in China. In December of that year, the facility was connected to the national grid becoming the world’s first commercial, utility-scale non-pumped hydrogravity energy storage system.

The company also has a scaled-down pilot system near its headquarters in Switzerland that can store five megawatts of power.