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B2 - Intermediate technical English


Storing electricity.... the great green challenge 

Clean electricity is the power of the future, but it has several problems. The wind does not blow all the time, and the sun does not shine after sunset,  so some electricity from the sun and the wind has to be stored. At present most storage involves batteries; in a few years' time, most big storage units will use cheaper and simpler solutions.

Hydro power    Gravity is the natural force behind hydroelectric power
    As the world moves fast towards renewable sources of energy, engineers are facing a big challenge. How can we store electricity to be used at times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining?  In some cases the answer will be batteries; but in other cases it could come from a variety of different solutions – starting with gravity.
   Gravity is the most abundant source of power on Earth. It is everywhere.... literally everywhere. It's always been everywhere, since the beginning of time.  Nobody knew about it until around 1700, when Isaac Newton saw an apple fall from a tree in his garden. Newton asked himself the question: "Why did that apple fall to the ground?" And he soon worked out the answer.
   Everything will fall to the ground if it can do so, because there is a massive force that pulls things towards the centre of the earth. Newton decided to call this force "gravity", a word that then just meant "weight".
    Engineers have used gravity as a source of power for centuries, long before Newton first explained it. In particular they used gravity to move water from one place to another, to irrigate fields and bring water to cities. They knew that water would flow downhill, but never uphill, so they built structures, such as Roman aqueducts, to use the force of gravity most effectively.
    In 1907 , engineers in Switzerland first used gravity for a new purpose: to store energy. Applying the principle that "What goes up must come down", they used surplus hydroelectric power to pump water up a hill, where they stored it in a lake. Then when they needed more electricity, they let the water come back down the hill, driving electric turbines as it fell. The idea was just so simple, and it is now used in many parts of the world. However the problem is that "pumped storage" hydro schemes can't be built just anywhere, as they need lots of water and big hills or mountains.
    A more recent idea adapts the principle of pumped storage so that it can be used almost anywhere in the world. Instead of water and a mountain, some modern gravity systems use water, or big blocks of concrete, and a tower. A tower can be built anywhere, such as beside a solar farm where it can produce electricity when the sun is not shining. During the day some of  the sun's energy is used to lift a heavy weight to the top of the tower; then during the night, the weight comes slowly back down to the ground, driving electric generators as it falls.
    The system is so simple, and it's also very green. It does not use chemicals or rare metals, and towers can be built anywhere. Experts think that energy storage towers will last for 50 years or more.... while batteries only last for a few years. Another idea that is being developed is to use old coal mines. There are old coal mines with big vertical shafts all over the world; there are mines with shafts that are over 1000 metres deep.
    Some experts believe that gravity systems are the cheapest way to store electricity. Gravity-stored electricity is maybe half the price of battery-stored electricity, but even so it is not cheap; in order to make gravity more effective, we would need to increase its force – and that, of course, it quite impossible.
   Yet gravity is not the only way of storing energy, and engineers are working on systems that store it using water pressure or compressed air... and even sand!.
    Norwegian engineers have built a system using the pressure that exists deep in the ocean ; and in Italy there are plans to store energy using compressed CO2 in cylinders at the bottom of the sea. Doing things very differently, the town of Kankaanpää In Finland has started storing energy in 100 tons of hot sand. This could perhaps be the cheapest and easiest solution of all, because sand is very cheap and easy to transport.
    Storage is one of the big scientific challenges of our time, as storage is the essential partner of wind power and solar power. We need clean electricity 24 hours a day, not just when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing.


Word guide
WORDS
involve: use, concern  abundant: lots of - .literally: really  -  purpose: objective, aim  -  store: to stock, to keep  -  apply: use  -  power: energy  -- drive: to make something work  -  tower: very tall building  -  solar-farm: place where electricity is produced from the sun  -  last : continue -  shaft: a vertical hole in the ground  -   pressure: force  -  compressed: made more dense, forced into a smaller volume  -  Norwegian a person from Norway


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Student Worksheet

Storing electricity - the great green challenge

Interactive exercise
Put back the twenty missing words in this extract from the article.  Some test your vocabulary, others will test your grammar !


Here are the words you will need to use. However take care; this list contains twenty-five words, so there are five words that you will not need to use.  You can select a word with your mouse or fingers and slide it into a box.

anywhere   applying  as   driving  during  falls   fell    first  ground   instead   inside   left   let  many    more   much   nowhere   power   purpose  so  up   used   used   using   weight
      In 1907 , engineers in Switzerland  used gravity for a new :  to store energy. the principle that "What goes  must come down", they used surplus hydroelectric to pump water up a hill, where they stored it in a lake. Then when they needed  electricity, they  the water come back down the hill, electric turbines as it . The idea was just  simple, and it is now used in  parts of the world. However the problem is that "pumped storage" hydro schemes can't be built just , as they need lots of water and big hills or mountains.
    A more recent idea adapts the principle of pumped storage so that it can be  almost anywhere in the world. of water and a mountain, some modern gravity systems use water, or big blocks of concrete, and a tower.  A tower can be built anywhere, such  beside a solar farm where it can produce electricity when the sun is not shining.  the day some of  the sun's energy is  to lift a heavy  to the top of the tower; then during the night, the weight comes slowly back down to the , driving electric generators as it .

   

Ideas for teachers

Storing electricity - the great green challenge

Introduction.  Before starting this text, write the word electricity up on the board.  Don't just write it up as a normal word, but show its phonetics.  The word electricity is stressed on the third syllable, so in phonetics  [elek'trisiti] or [ilek'trisiti]  .  However the word electric is stressed on the second syllable, i.e. [i'lek trik].  
Also note the word hydro, pronounced ['haidrəʊ]  not ['hi:drəʊ]  that's hi-drow  not hee-drow .

Next look at the word store ? What part of speech is it? What different meanings can it have ? What words can be formed from it, starting with simple inflected forms such as storing, stored etc.  And storage?

Now put electricity and store together and ask your class: how can we store electricity? If you have a budding engineer or electrical geek in your class, you may get a few different answers; but otherwise you may just get one answer "a battery".
Now's the time to open a few eyes by taking the article.

Interactive exercise
This activity is designed to consolidate some of the vocabulary, and also checks students' understanding of indefinite pronouns. The article contains several examples of the words everywhere  everything and anywhere.  



Going further –  For some general tips on the nature of technical language, and discover more graded Englih texts on technical topics, see Technical English


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