The researchers’ idea is to make use of excess electricity produced when demand is low — for example, from wind farms when strong winds are blowing at night — by using electric resistance heaters, which convert electricity into heat.
These devices would use the excess electricity to heat up a large mass of firebricks, which can retain the heat for long periods if they are enclosed in an insulated casing.
Electricity prices are determined a day in advance, with a separate price for each one-hour segment of the day.
This is done through an auction system between the producers and the distributors of power.
And unlike the demand for electricity, which varies greatly and often unpredictably, the demand for industrial heat is constant and can make use of an extra heat source whenever it’s available, providing an almost limitless market for the heat provided by this firebrick-based system.
The system, which Forsberg calls FIRES (for FIrebrick Resistance-heated Energy Storage), would in effect raise the minimum price of electricity on the utilities market, which currently can plunge to almost zero at times of high production, such as the middle of a sunny day when solar plant outputs are at their peak.
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Firebrick itself is just a variant of ordinary bricks, made from clays that are capable of withstanding much higher temperatures, ranging up to 1,600 degrees Celsius or more.