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Once they were used to transport miners deep below the earth’s crust. Now South Africa’s gold mines could find a valuable new role – as energy stores.

Scots energy storage start-up Gravitricity has just received £300,000 from government agency Innovate UK to explore South Africa’s mine shaft potential.

The African nation faces an energy crisis – with insufficient grid infrastructure to reliably connect electricity generation to power users. Energy stores could be the key.

Gravitricity’s innovative energy battery works by raising multiple heavy weights – totalling up to 12,000 tonnes – in a deep shaft and releasing them when energy is required.

Analysts calculate Gravitricity’s system can store energy at half the lifetime cost of lithium-ion batteries – and already the green-tech pioneers are planning to install their invention in repurposed mineshafts across Europe. The Scots innovators have now received £300,000 from Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst programme to explore South Africa’s potential.

“South Africa has an energy crisis – with insufficient grid capacity to meet demand. Our technology helps bridge that gap,” explains Gravitricity Managing Director Charlie Blair.

“The country has ambitious plans to develop more renewable energy, but at the same time there is a lack of supply and robust grid infrastructure to carry power to factories and people’s homes – particularly at peak times.

“Our technology uses repurposed mine shafts to store excess energy and then release it when required – either in very rapid, short bursts or over a long period of time. This takes pressure of the grid and helps smooth supply at vital times.”

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Melani De Lima from RESA said: “The South African electricity market is in crisis. Since 2008 the country has been faced with intermittent periods of load shedding.

“Gravitricity offers a solution that addresses the problem of intermittency by storing large amounts of energy, and also addresses grid imbalances through super-fast response times.”