SOM’s tall buildings as renewable energy source


In May 2024, Energy Vault, a company specializing in grid-scale energy storage, announced a global partnership with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) to transform tall buildings and superstructures into ‘big batteries’ using the technology called gravity energy storage systems (GESS). The partnership was prompted by the energy company’s system named G-VAULT, which is a way of storing energy. It resembles a giant seesaw, a high-tech one in this case, that uses heavy weights that go up and down, and the system employs gravity to store renewable energy. These tall buildings are yet to be built and identified, as well as the location where they would be constructed.


SOM and Energy Vault are expected to use smart computers and technologies like artificial intelligence, robust materials and modern engineering to build a system that can lift these heavy weights. When there’s excess energy (for example, at night), these superstructures use that electricity to lift a very heavy weight up high. When these tall buildings need more electricity, like during the day when there’s more work, they let the weight come back down, and as it falls, it creates energy and supplies renewable electricity. Energy Vault began working with SOM during the last 12 months to optimize the structure, architecture, and economics of its GESS technology.

som energy vault renewable energy buildings
images courtesy of Energy Vault and SOM | video stills courtesy of Energy Vault, via Youtube



Energy vault develops gravity energy storage systems (GESS)


These days, most structures that store extra electricity use pumped hydro storage, which is similar to a water reservoir uphill. The water flows downhill and generates power when the buildings need more electricity, and Energy Vault’s gravity energy storage systems (GESS) work in a similar way, but instead of water, they plan to use giant weights. Unlike pumped hydro, which needs mountains and water, this GESS can be built almost anywhere because it just uses gravity.


SOM and Energy Vault believe this can open up new possibilities for storing clean energy from sources like solar and wind power and add that its systems are built to last for 35 years or more, with minimal upkeep. The clients can choose the size of the system to fit their architectural and technical needs. The use of recycled materials in the system is possible in order to reduce waste, and once installed, these tall buildings have the potential to store and supply renewable energy to power grids for a long period of time without degrading. 

som energy vault renewable energy buildings
SOM and Energy Vault team up to construct tall buildings that can supply renewable energy



Renewable energy supply using 300- or 1,000-meter buildings


To date, Energy Vault has been focusing on their other platform, called EVx, which is the first design for their gravity storage system. They built a 5-megawatt (MW) version of the EVx system in Switzerland to test it out and are now working on creating bigger systems for buildings with multi-gigawatt hours in other countries through partnerships.


These EVx platforms are designed to be modular, so it is easy to add more units and increase the total renewable energy storage capacity. So far, the EVx is currently being developed and deployed via license agreements in China (3.7 GWh announced projects), Egypt, Greece and the 16-country South African Development Community.

som energy vault renewable energy buildings
the renewable energy in buildings that SOM and Energy Vault will create use gravity to store electricity



SOM is stepping in to help Energy Vault improve their EVx system to make it more efficient by using less energy and cost-effective. This includes designing much taller towers for lifting the weights, with some of them potentially being over 300 meters or 1,000 meters tall.  By finding architectural and technical ways to make the system more efficient, they can get the benefits of the energy storage system back quicker.


So far, they expect the carbon payback to be in three to four years. This means the time it takes to offset the energy used to build the system is shorter. SOM has designed many of the world’s most well-known buildings, including Burj Khalifa, Tianjin CTF Finance Centre, Willis Tower, and One World Trade Center.

som energy vault renewable energy buildings
unlike pumped hydro, the gravity system can be built almost anywhere because it just uses gravity

som energy vault renewable energy buildings
SOM and Energy Vault believe this can lead to storing clean energy from solar and wind power



project info:


name: Gravity energy storage systems (GESS)

architecture firm: Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM)

company: Energy Vault