Category: Blogs

VIDEO: Fluence’s Marek Kubik on solar firming and decarbonisation with energy storage

There is a perception that “batteries cannot be long life assets”, but it depends very much on how they are designed and used, Dr Marek Kubik of Fluence has said.

Kubik, responsible for strategic and market direction at the energy storage technology and financing solutions provider which was formed as a joint venture (JV) between AES Energy Storage and Siemens, spoke with Energy-Storage.News at the Energy Storage Summit in London last month.

Having blogged for the site recently on how energy storage can provide ‘digital inertia’ to grids, based on a real-world case study from AES’ Kilroot project in Northern Ireland, thereby reducing the need for thermal generation and aiding decarbonisation, we asked Kubik for his views on a range of topics.

This year at the Summit, the principle of ‘revenue stacking’, providing multiple services from a single battery system, was at the forefront of the agenda moreso than in previous years. Kubik said that in the UK so far, we have mostly seen “short duration, short life systems, often built around one single service,” but that expected changes in the way National Grid, the transmission operator, procures grid services could pave the way for providing “different services at different times”.

Multiple application use and scheduling of system tasks can also have a bearing on the lifetime of storage system assets, although according to Kubik, “people get hung up on the idea of degradation, thinking batteries cannot be long life assets”.

“There are ways of countering that and getting the performance for as long as you need it,” Kubik said.

Providing tech to clients that include developers, utilities or behind-the-meter customers, Fluence launched an energy storage platform, Sunflex, which is specifically designed for solar-plus-storage applications. While the value this can provide is still mostly to be found in solar-rich markets with strong incentives for right-time-of-day solar PV generation such as California and the Caribbean Islands, Kubik said solar firming is one of the “directions of travel [for the industry] that is clear and compelling.

In the interview, Fluence’s Marek Kubik discusses topics including:

  • The arrival of revenue stacking as a commonly-talked about aspect of storage project development.   
  • Why solar firming with energy storage is part of the market’s natural “direction of travel” and when we can expect dispatchable solar to become a mainstream proposition.
  • How energy storage can squeeze some thermal generation, particularly combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT), from being needed to balance the grid with response times of “hundreds of milliseconds”
  • The ways in which this provision of ‘digital inertia’ can aid decarbonisation

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VIDEO: Batteries can help UPS customers ‘do something proactive’, says Vertiv’s Emiliano Cevenini

Energy storage can be an extensive value enabler for existing customers of UPS systems, while attracting new commercial and industrial (C&I) users into the space, a spokesman for Vertiv has said.

Formerly known as Emerson Network Power until its acquisition in 2016 by investment group Platinum Equity, the company has specialised in providing electricity for critical infrastructure and uninterrupted power systems (UPS) to businesses, building on decades of prior experience.

At this year’s Energy Storage Summit in London, many eyes were on the ‘usual suspects’ of system integrators and technology providers that the industry has long been familiar with, but newer names in the context of the battery energy storage industry including Vertiv were also showcasing their solutions and product offerings.

Energy-Storage.News spoke with Vertiv’s vice president for sales, AC power and business development for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Emiliano Cevenini at the event in the video interview you can watch below.

According to Cevenini, Vertiv’s background in UPS, including work at data centres and other ‘critical users’, has set the company up well to diversify into battery energy storage. Many have invested in UPS solutions, but find that power resiliency is not really a concern, to give one set of examples. For these customers, Cevenini said, that are “literally waiting for something bad to happen” that most likely will not happen, there are opportunities for their batteries “to do more”. Adding services, whether behind-the-meter or front-of-meter, adds to the overall business case.

These customers, Cevenini, who also spoke onstage at the event, said, want batteries not only for back-up, but also “for something proactive”. Conversely, Cevenini said, adding services and therefore potential revenue streams makes battery energy storage an option for ‘non-critical’ customers that might not have considered it previously.

In the interview, Vertiv’s Emiliano Cevenini discusses:

  • Macro-drivers for energy storage: how they vary around the world and how the bankability of lithium-ion drives the industry forward at present
  • How Vertiv’s background in UPS and solutions delivery means they have a large installed base of customers potentially ready for batteries, and further opportunities to acquire customers through as the value of energy storage grows in recognition.
  • Why it’s understandable that energy procurement professionals for C&I customers are intrigued, but wary of “disrupting” the existing status quo when it comes to trying new options for saving money or energy.
  •  How the technology in a traditional UPS system can be a good fit for delivering both front-of-meter and behind-the-meter energy storage applications and why the customer should not notice any difference in day-to-day operations.
  • How advanced lithium-ion could “potentially” be revolutionary for Vertiv’s overall business case.
  • Why some regions including much of Europe are more open to “independently funded system integrators” taking on energy storage projects, while other regions appear to be putting the future more in the hands of utilities.

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Forget Brexit: Europe and Britain can unite in energy storage and climate change goals

Already this year we’ve been able to learn directly about the energy storage market in Europe from the Energy Storage Summit in London at the end of February and Energy Storage Europe in Dusseldorf, which just took place last week. Andy Colthorpe summarises what he’s seen and heard. 

The obvious main difference, is that one (the Summit) basically focuses mainly on one national market, the UK, while of course Energy Storage Europe is a little more open. It is quite a lot more nuanced than that of course, but in London we heard a lot about business cases for specific applications, barriers and opportunities for energy storage, while in Europe, there was still more focus on the drivers for adoption and debate around various technologies and their potential.

Future of European business models is still opaque

Energy Storage Europe’s biggest topics, to my mind, were the relevance of ‘sector coupling’ and the potential for energy storage technologies besides lithium batteries to play effective roles in the global energy transition.

There wasn’t a huge amount of focus on business models, which more than one source told me was something they had hoped to see more of. Perhaps the closest we really got was the announcement that system integrator Younicos has spied a niche in providing energy storage ‘as-a-service’ and will effectively begin renting battery energy storage systems out to commercial and industrial (C&I) entities. This echoes the strategies – examined at length by this site and our journal PV Tech Power – of the US’ leading C&I players in energy storage and also solar PV, the ‘as-a-service’ model.

It’s perhaps unclear if the development of business models is still at such an early stage in Europe that they are not yet discussed, or perhaps if some players were to some extent avoiding making their future strategies public at this stage.

Certainly the view was that the recent RWE-E.On swap deal for shares in RWE’s renewable energy company Innogy is a huge sea change for the paradigm of utility participation in the Energiewende (‘Energy Transition’). The ripples will be felt no doubt across Europe and some that I spoke to at the show said it could point the way forward for the power sector’s big players as they migrate gradually from the central asset ownership model to a more nimble, service-based one.

Tech, sector coupling in focus in Europe

In his keynote address, Thorsten Herdan of Germany’s Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWI), told the audience that while he – an energy and utilities sector engineer and businessman for 21 years before a move into politics – was impressed by the energy storage technologies he knew about, he still felt there is some way to go in development and commercialisation.

Although we had seen it on a lesser scale in previous years, while still dominated by system integrators, technology suppliers and of course battery makers most familiar to the lithium space, the exhibitors looked to be at least a third hydrogen, flywheels, power-to-x, ultracapacitors, thermal energy storage and other technologies, competing, or for the most part complementing, the role of lithium-ion batteries. Energy-Storage Europe’s conference strands meanwhile included a whole day of power-to-gas and power-to-x discussion, having been spoken of in previous years as a potential way to enable monthly or even seasonal energy storage durations.

I spoke to the likes of ultracapacitor maker Skeleton Technologies’ CEO Taavi Madiberk and representatives from Hydrogenics, who spoke at length of the complimentary nature of different energy storage technologies. In the latter’s case, the niche of long range and fleet vehicle electrification with hydrogen and the integration of renewable energy as a counterpart to electric vehicles and batteries, really caught the zeitgeist of the show’s recurring theme of the importance of sector coupling with energy in heat and transport.

One surprise was that with a few exceptions, such as American iron flow battery maker ESS Inc, which scored two 440kWh projects for partner and investor BASF there were not a lot of non-lithium electrochemical batteries. Not a huge presence from redox flow energy storage companies, which for the most part are busy concentrating on their chosen niches and delivering ongoing projects, rather than seeking new opportunities, it would seem. 

Business as usual for the UK despite Brexit

At the Energy Storage Summit in London, conversely, business models for both front-of-meter and behind-the-meter energy storage were under discussion almost throughout.

Our UK editorial team reported back from the conference’s sessions while I took a turn at chairing some case studies. My Solar Media colleagues Liam Stoker and David Pratt bagged a range of news lines from the panels sessions and one-to-one discussions, including a view that three main risks are holding energy storage back in the UK: non-battery costs aren’t falling as fast as they could be, ‘mis-selling’ could throw the market off course, and lithium batteries as an asset class still carry a perceived safety hazard.

We also heard that the Capacity Market, Britain’s mechanism for ensuring security of consumer power supplies in winter months is “rapidly becoming outdated”, according to one panellist, while the question of grid connection capacity, in terms of cost and access, remains a hot topic.

Again, the case studies and presentations from the likes of ABB on microgrids, Narada Power and Nidec SI on utility-scale and NEC ES did not shy away from discussion of what business as usual is going to mean for the energy storage industry in future. NEC ES’ Steve Fludder stressed the importance of increased connectivity and better IT systems, ABB’s Britta Buchholz spoke about the commercial case for diesel replacement in Africa and Narada Power’s Allen Xiang and Nidec SI’s Matteo Rizzi focused on the challenges of delivering utility-scale energy storage and solar-plus-storage projects cost-effectively.

The question of Britain’s exit from the EU still leaves many questions and much uncertainty hanging over the market, although in the short term arguably no more so than other winds that have buffeted international trade and industry. Germany’s representatives that I spoke to in Dusseldorf, for their part, expressed the same sadness at the UK’s decision that I am becoming accustomed to hearing.

A more positive note of ‘uncertainty’ for the UK comes in the general tone that while the short term, low-hanging fruit of front-of-meter grid services as the market stands is being taken up quicker than it can appear, the case for C&I energy storage is immediate for many market participants. Medium to long term, the grid services market is expected to change, and electricity rate structures for businesses with it. The key point speakers at the Summit and across the industry that I’ve spoken to agree on, is that there will always remain a value attached to the services batteries can provide, be it TRIAD payment (peak demand) avoidance or ancillary services. Indeed, nearly all of the companies I spoke to at the Germany show said the UK remains an important market and the UK industry important partners for the continent and the rest of the world. 

Back in London we heard from Asif Rafique of Swiss-headquartered investment group SUSI Partners that it is not “afraid of merchant risk” in UK energy storage, as part of a diversified strategy of investing in clean energy and sustainability ventures across different markets, including Canada’s fast-growing C&I energy storage space. Ulrika Wising of Macquarie Capital, one of the world’s biggest infrastructure investors, said that in bankability terms, banks need to hire more people with energy industry backgrounds.

Part of the challenge, Wising said, is that “a lot of [coming] changes to the market will include upsides that we don’t see yet. How do we build that into the business cases [for energy storage]?”

Commercial sustainability, environmental sustainability

It’s essential that business models push forward and equally vital that the industry can be sustainable in more ways than one. Used wisely, energy storage can be a powerful tool for decarbonising the global energy mix. Of course, it remains an unavoidable pity that storage of renewable energy for long periods remains elusive on a mainstream scale, from a cost perspective.

Despite some breakthroughs and a lot of interesting projects and products, neither mainland Europe nor Britain is really able to generate big returns for investors or households from pairing solar with storage for arbitrage. At the moment, the opportunities seem to be spoken about with most enthusiasm in the C&I space, which in itself could drive more opportunities for solar and wind.

The speculation over materials in the supply chain continues, sometimes from an ethical and corporate transparency standpoint, and despite some initiatives such as the 2nd life repurposing of EV batteries, there does not appear to have been a huge amount of progress on recycling or end of life planning for the lithium battery supply chain.

Nonetheless, Dr Simone Peter, head of German Federal renewable energy association BEE and former head of the Green Party, who says we have to act now to avoid the worst consequences, remains convinced the industry is committed to changing the climate change status quo for the better. And while Brexit might loom, at a time when “we need global and international solutions”, Peter also says that she sees Britain continuing to be a willing partner in these discussions, including around CO2 pricing.

“What I hear here [at Energy Storage Europe] is that the ecological aspect is important for the energy storage industry and we learned that the renewable energy sector is the most important factor of climate protection.

“Even if it’s not the [main] focus [of an industry] we see that prices for the cost of PV and wind is so low now it’s cheaper than new coal power plants. It’s in the market so I’m optimistic that we will break through and continue the Energiewende and transform energy from fossils and nuclear to renewables.”

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Blockchain in action: stabilising the grid in Germany and the Netherlands

Case study: Blockchain technology is being put to the test in northern Europe, writes Jean-Baptiste Cornefert of Sonnen.

A quick view into the future: it is the year 2030 and Paul, a homeowner with his own photovoltaic system and battery storage, checks his electricity bill. His neighbour Sam got 12kWh of solar power from Paul’s house roof today. Amanda, the elderly lady a few blocks away, has consumed 5kWh of solar power from Paul. Both charges Paul sees on his online portal. The transactions are registered with a blockchain and the compensation is immediately credited to Paul’s bank account.

Those energy transactions happen thousands of times every second, and are continuously and consistently registered on a myriad of single computers around the world with a blockchain. A blockchain is a database that is organised decentrally. A main server that stores all operations is no longer needed. All distributed computers store the information that Sam got 12kWh of solar power from Paul. After a certain time, all accumulated information is then combined into a block and provided with a kind of checksum. This checksum is then included in the data of the next block. This makes the blockchain very secure against subsequent manipulation. If an individual transaction is subsequently modified on a computer, this is immediately noticeable because a whole chain of checksums is no longer correct.

For the energy supply of the future, the blockchain is the key technology. It digitally links up millions of decentralised generators of clean energy and documents their output, even at the smallest level between Paul’s PV system and his neighbour Sam. Finally, Paul produces and consumes his electricity himself and sells the surplus energy that he does not need himself. Miles of transmission networks that transport electricity over long distances are needed in a much lower scale.

Electricity is more and more being produced in decentralised and climate friendly ways. Instead of individual large power plants, energy is generated where it is being consumed: for example on private houses with photovoltaic systems. Of course, there are also wind turbines, on land and at sea, hydroelectric power plants and biogas plants. All contribute to the sustainable electricity mix that supplies society, industry and consumers.

This decentralised generation has a positive effect on our energy system in many ways. Electricity is produced and consumed directly or stored in batteries for later use. As a result, the necessary basic supply in the power grid is drastically reduced, which in turn means only a few central power plants are needed.

Nevertheless, the switch to renewable energy also has its own challenges.

A nuclear or coal-fired power plant can theoretically deliver constant power around the clock. Wind and solar power, on the other hand, are influenced by external circumstances. If there is a lot of sun, the share of solar power is correspondingly high. At night, this will disappear completely. Wind energy depends on the weather. This wind is sometimes constant, sometimes it fades and in a storm, a lot of electricity is produced.

Such fluctuations are referred to in the jargon as volatility. The energy transition, and thus the change to a decentralised supply, is still a few years away.

But the more renewable energy is integrated into the electricity mix today, the greater the need for solutions, so-called grid services, for this new form of electricity production.

A pilot project for offering grid services in whole new way has just started in Germany. In acooperation between IBM, German transmission system operator, TenneT, and battery supplier, sonnen, decentralised home storage systems are being integrated into the power grid with a blockchain for the first time.

What does a grid service via blockchain look like? Imagine a windy day over the North Sea that makes the wind turbines in the area rotate heavily and produce large amounts of electricity. Now there are two problems: the power consumption in northern Germany is not high enough to take all that electricity.

Secondly, the power lines to southern Germany or other parts of Europe are not strong enough to transport that huge excess of energy. To bridge that bottleneck the grid operators have to act with the so-called ‘redispatch’. Usually they turn off the wind turbines in the north and activate gas or coal fired plants in the south for keeping the balance.

The pilot project with TenneT and sonnen has found a new approach. If too much wind energy is produced in the north it is stored in the virtual connected battery storage systems in that region. At the same time, decentralised storage systems in the south discharge energy into the grid, compensating for the lack of energy from the north. So the bottleneck is bypassed via a virtual power line that is, by the way, the first green solution for redispatch.

The amount of energy each individual decentralised battery has charged or discharged is registered and stored by a blockchain. The process starts automatically within seconds, no phone calls between grid operator and power plants have to be made. The collected information is encrypted and stored on thousands of computers. Every participating party, such as storage providers or grid operators, has full access to all data, making it very transparent.

sonnen is providing its virtual battery pool that can deliver exact forecasts how much energy will be available in a certain region and within a certain time.

For the grid and society, this form of redispatch has significant advantages.

On the one hand, the decentralised storage units are already available to homeowners and serve as a battery for their own energy supply. In addition, all people benefit. Less wind energy has to be wasted and the costs for grid operations like the redispatch can be reduced significantly.

In addition to their own, clean and free electricity production, the individual owners of the storage are looking forward to additional revenue they can obtain by participating in those scenarios.

This piece was originally published in the pages of ‘Storage & Smart Power’, a dedicated section in the global downstream technology journal PV Tech Power, presented each quarter by Energy-Storage.News. This article accompanied ‘Look beyond the hype: to really disrupt the energy world, we need a Yin to blockchain’s Yang’, a featured paper from Carsten Reincke-Collon of Younicos.

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Look beyond the hype: to really disrupt the energy world, we need a Yin to blockchain’s Yang

Not a day goes by without another article, conference, LinkedIn post or tweet, praising the revolutionary nature and countless blessings of introducing “blockchain” into the energy sector. And yes, the technology behind the Bitcoin cyber-currency has the potential to fundamentally alter the way energy is being procured and traded. But for all its potential, blockchain is, and always will be, limited to the purely commercial aspect of any energy transaction. To be truly transformative, the $-bits need to be matched by software that links it the other side of the proverbial energy coin: the physical world of electrons.

What blockchain does do is bring the market much closer to the electrons – and thus the economic and physical dimensions of the energy world closer together. Remember that essentially the energy world is split in two. First, it has a physical dimension in which electricity is being generated and distributed through an infrastructure we call the power grid. For electricity to be transported safely, this grid must be kept in balance at all times, which essentially means that power production needs to equal load demand every instance.

On the other hand, there is a market – or some other arrangement – by which those that consume power pay for its production and safe transport. Generally, payments are made to a utility. This utility in turn either produces power or procures it – and, depending on where you are in the world, either pays a grid operator or maintains grid stability itself.

Today, the commercial transaction is only very indirectly linked to what happens in the physical world. That’s because electricity is essentially being traded via the great “ocean” that is the grid. Yes, producers feed an agreed amount into that ocean at any given time, typically in hourly intervals, and consumers pay for the amount of energy they use, but it’s impossible to say where the kilowatt-hour (kWh) of power that just kept your lights on really came from. Most likely it just comes from the closest power plant. Blockchain changes that – to a degree.

The ABCs of blockchain

What is blockchain? Well, it’s basically a continuously growing list of records, or “blocks“, which are linked and secured using cryptography. Each block typically contains a link to a previous block, atimestamp and transaction data. That makes blockchains inherently resistant to modification of the data.

A blockchain can serve as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way” according to the Wikipedia definition.

“For use as a distributed ledger, a blockchain is typically managed by a peer-to-peer network collectively adhering to a protocol for validating new blocks. Once recorded, the data in any given block cannot be altered retroactively without the alteration of all subsequent blocks, which requires collusion of the network majority.”

Blockchain became famous as the technology behind the Bitcoin digital currency. But its decentralised nature, fault tolerance and security also make it suitable for many other applications, ranging from identity management to food traceability.

Energy trading is a great fit too. Blockchain allows for the creation of an automated trading platform that links producers and consumers in real time and lets them engage – via “smart contracts” – in a (quasi-) direct transaction. The electrons thus sold still don’t go straight to the buyer, but both parties know that at the (exact) time in question, one party is producing just the amount of energy that the other party needs.

Provided both parties are also physically close (which is a big if), this transaction has relatively little impact on the grid. As almost all contributions on the subject point out, blockchain has the potential to make a utility redundant by enabling consumers and (independent) producers or prosumers to trade directly without any intermediary.

While it’s hard to argue with that, sceptics try to temper the hype around blockchain by pointing to (i) the volume of data storage required, (ii) the correspondingly huge requirement for energy that would be needed, as well as (iii) the absence of any industrial standards. There’s also the ubiquitous complaint that “the current legal and regulatory framework in no way matches the requirements of a decentralised energy grid”.

And, indeed, at present the energy aspect of blockchain is, unfortunately, a reality. To be disruptive, blockchain will have to become a lot leaner: right now a single transaction “costs” the equivalent of a full charge of an electric vehicle.

Obviously, “paying” in energy the equivalent of a full Tesla charge is not sustainable.

But the good news is that there are many promising avenues to significantly reduce the energy cost of using blockchain in grid transactions. It’s much easier to limit and validate participants, for instance. Given sufficient interest, it seems certain that blockchain will scale – just as emails did – even though there were many that warned sending an email would prove to be much costlier than sending a fax.

This piece was originally published in the pages of ‘Storage & Smart Power’, a dedicated section in the global downstream technology journal  PV Tech Power, presented each quarter by Energy-Storage.News. Read Part 2 of this article here, with a case study on blockchain technology in real-world conditions by Sonnen to follow on the site.  

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From followers to leaders: The changing face of Europe’s energy storage market

The European electricity storage market has seen an impressive growth over the past two years. Whereas in 2015 some 300MWh of battery storage capacity was newly installed, just two years later in 2017, more than 700MWh was added.

The biggest market segment for electrical storage remains the utility-scale battery storage market (i.e. front-of-meter), accounting for 60% of total capacities installed in 2015 and still commanding 55% of the overall stationary battery market in 2017. Yet from year-to-year it was always a different country where the majority of battery capacity added in the utility segment took place.

First Italy, then Germany, then the UK: Europe’s annual frontrunners

In 2015 Italy accounted for the majority of the European front-of-meter battery storage market, adding 100MWh of capacity. Then, in 2016 Germany captured 78% of this market segment, adding 180MWh of utility scale battery capacity. Finally, in 2017 the UK was by far the most important utility-scale battery market, adding 240MWh of capacity after having added less than 40MWh of utility scale battery storage capacity in the two prior years combined. These strong annual fluctuations in each country’s demand for utility-scale storage solutions illustrates that the demand was typically ignited by short term market opportunities (the auctioning of grid service capacities in the UK for instance) but that so far only a limited self-sustaining market demand for these large scale storage systems has emerged.

PV still drives forward batteries at residential level

In contrast, the demand for residential battery storage solutions has progressed more uniformly in all European countries over the past three years. The market potential in the residential storage segment is closely tied to the activity of new PV installations in all European regions.

Over the past three years, between 40% and 45% of the yearly battery capacities added are attributable to residential systems. With falling battery prices, lowered feed-in tariffs and increasing electricity rates across Europe, it has become increasingly attractive to raise the share of self-consumption of the photovoltaic electricity generated on the homeowners’ roof rather than sell it to the grid.

The German residential battery storage market has developed rapidly since 2015, supported by an incentive scheme that granted a 30% investment subsidy for the battery system, as long as the systems fulfilled certain criteria.  The German residential battery storage market has grown rapidly since 2015 but the growth in demand for residential storage solutions grew in other European countries at an even faster rate – so that Germany’s share of this market segment in Europe declined from 80% in 2015 to 60% in 2017.

In particular Italy and the UK have seen a very strong growth in the residential battery storage demand during this period. In 2015 Italy accounted for 12% of the European residential storage market, when some 14MWh were installed. By 2017 Italy accounted for more than 20% of total European residential storage demand, while in the UK residential storage demand has become established in the past three years, reaching more than 20MWh in 2017. ‘European Market Monitor on Energy Storage’, our report with the European Association for the Storage of Energy (EASE), identifies other European countries where residential battery storage markets are also starting to become established.

The market segment that has clearly trailed the dynamics observed both in the utility-scale and the residential market segment is the industrial and commercial market segment (with storage capacities between 20kWh and 1MWh). However, we have identified emerging signs of growth in this segment, which you can read about in the full EMMES report.

Delta Energy & Environment (Delta-ee) has partnered with the European Association for Storage of Energy (EASE) to develop the ‘European Market Monitor on Energy Storage’ (EMMES). Working closely with EASE and its members, Delta-ee produces the EMMES report every six months to provide definitive analysis of the European energy storage markets. The first edition of the report was published in December and is now available for non-members to purchase. Contact the author for details, or visit the EASE website here for executive summary and further details.

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‘Digital inertia’: Energy storage can stabilise grid with 1/10 the capacity of thermal generation

On islanded (or isolated) grids with growing renewable penetrations, grid operators often struggle to maintain system stability. Operators in places as diverse as Ireland, Puerto Rico and Australia frequently rely on inertial response from thermal power plants like coal or gas-fired generators to balance sudden mismatches between supply and demand. However, recent research from Northern Ireland’s Queens University Belfast (QUB) finds that battery-based energy storage can provide inertial response for system reliability much more efficiently, at a lower cost and with substantially reduced emissions than a much larger quantity of thermal generation.

QUB’s research found that just 360 megawatts (MW) of battery-based energy storage could provide the equivalent stabilisation to Ireland’s All-Island electricity system as would normally be provided by 3,000MW of conventional thermal generation. That shift to batteries could save up to €19 million (US$22.5 million) annually and could achieve approximately 1.4 million tonnes of annual CO2 savings.

Inertia: A blink-of-the-eye grid balancing service

Inertia is a system-wide service that responds to fluctuations in electricity frequency in the first fraction of a second of an imbalance between supply and demand – for example, when a power station suddenly drops offline. Traditionally, this stabilising hand has come from the kinetic energy provided by the spinning mass of (synchronous) generators that produce electricity from fossil fuels.

All this occurs well within the first half a second of an issue – literally, the time it takes a human eye to blink. Traditionally the electric power sector has not thought of it as service. It’s just part of the physics of synchronous generators; and we don’t miss something until it’s gone.

As the proportion of energy from (non-synchronous) wind and solar grows this source of traditional ‘analogue’ inertia is in increasingly short supply. The typical solution to this has been to hold back wind and solar output during such times, but this is growing increasingly costly as renewable penetration grows. Let’s face facts: paying not to use zero-fuel cost and zero carbon renewables isn’t a tenable solution in the long run; and would require a significant overbuild of renewable capacity to achieve the same decarbonisation targets.

Energy needed during curtailment is often provided by fossil fuel-powered thermal generators, running when they don’t need to be or running at a higher set point than they need to be, wasting fuel and adding cost.

Battery-based energy storage: A more efficient solution

However, an alternative solution is close at hand. Energy consulting firm Everoze recently released a recent report ‘Batteries: Beyond The Spin’, based on the QUB research.

QUB’s two-year research project, funded by the UK Government through an Innovate UK Energy Catalyst grant, studied operating data from the 10MW AES Kilroot Advancion Energy Storage Array in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. QUB researchers observed that battery-based energy storage can supply the equivalent system services provided by traditional generators far more efficiently, and without some of the drawbacks such as post-event recovery oscillations.

By modelling the energy storage array’s impact at scale, the QUB team found that the array’s response time – approaching 0.1s – provided the same effective stabilisation as analogue inertia.  This speed of response, an order of magnitude faster than even the UK Enhanced Frequency Response service tendered last year by National Grid would allow just 360MW of fast responding batteries to provide the equivalent stabilisation to Ireland’s All-Island electricity system as would normally be provided by 3,000MW of conventional thermal generation.

By removing the technology bias to ‘Analogue Inertia’, and letting batteries provide an equivalent ‘Digital Inertia’ service the report outlines how Ireland’s electricity system could save up to €19 million ($22.5 million USD) annually, the result of allowing thermal generators to operate more efficiently, reliably and with reduced maintenance needs.

In addition to savings to consumers, analysis by Everoze showed clear environmental benefits of a move towards battery-based energy storage. Ireland could achieve annual CO2 savings of approximately 1.4 million tonnes as a result of adopting ‘Digital Inertia’. Those savings are equivalent to cutting the emissions from an entire city the size of Cork (population ~208,000) in Ireland — or Salt Lake City, Utah in the United States, Bordeaux, France, or Nogales, Mexico.

The key to achieving those cost and carbon reductions and gains in stability lies in removing regulatory barriers that prevent batteries from providing those services. Both the language and structure of managing inertial response are today framed around incumbent technology.  This lack of technology neutrality is a barrier to innovative solutions.

Opportunity for digital inertia as renewables scale up

Unsurprisingly, islanded grids facing growing penetrations of renewables will be the first to address these questions at scale.  While it may take time, larger interconnected grids approaching significant renewable penetration will learn from the experiences of smaller grids such as Ireland.

  • In the US, FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) has begun to study reforming how grids maintain sufficient primary frequency response, a similar service to inertia.
  • South Australia is quickly adopting renewables in a similar fashion as Ireland, where energy storage could provide similar stabilisation services and reduce curtailment at points of weak interconnection.
  • The UK’s National Grid is also flagging growing needs within the next few years in its System Needs and Product Strategy

The Island of Ireland is a world leader in clean electricity, thanks to a progressive grid policy by Ireland’s state-owned transmission system operator EirGrid and Northern Irish equivalent SONI.  To date, analogue inertia has served the power system well – managing the rate of change of frequency in the blink of an eye to keep the system stable at all times.

QUB’s research should now compel us to re-evaluate our options, prompting a fundamental re-evaluation of how we balance supply and demand on a sub-second basis. We, the team at Fluence, together with Everoze and QUB, believe it’s time to go ‘beyond the spin’ and unlock the cost-saving, efficiency-boosting and carbon-cutting power of batteries.

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Your most-read energy storage stories of 2017

Well, we seem to say it at the end of every year, but 2017 seemed a lot busier than 2016, 2016 was busier and more exciting than the year before that, and so on! There have been some hints already on what the industry and its observers expect to see in 2018 and we do not doubt energy storage will continue in its rise to become a flexible cornerstone of the world’s electricity infrastructure.

In the meantime, let’s reflect on the top news stories of last year, as reported by Energy-Storage.News and based on readership statistics from you:

1. Saltwater battery’ maker Aquion Energy back from dead under new ownership

Aquion Energy, one of energy storage’s more intriguing propositions, taking an award-winning, non-toxic, recyclable and novel battery chemistry based on saltwater, was in the early stages of market-seeding and made its first big deployments when it declared for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March.

Somewhat unexpectedly, the company was snapped up by Juline-Titans, a mostly-unknown investment group described as a “majority-American joint venture (JV)”. Of course, lithium-ion and to a lesser extent flow batteries form the vast majority of the world’s stationary energy storage market, but interest in Aquion perhaps demonstrates that the space is constantly looking to move forward.

Published 24 July 2017

2. Tesla 48MWh battery eliminates need to build undersea cable in Massachusetts for up to 22 years

A pretty significant project for a very small community. Energy-Storage.News reported in early November that the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, could save itself the expense and pain of building an undersea cabling network for better connection to the US grid network using a 6MW / 48MWh energy storage system.

Published 8 November 2017

3. Multiple Indian ‘Gigafactories’ expected by 2019

Under the stewardship of prime minister Narendra Modi, India has raced ahead in its solar ambitions, as avid readers of PV Tech in particular will have noted. India Energy Storage Alliance chief Dr Rahul Walawalkar told Energy-Storage.News in July that there is likely to be more, much more, to come in energy storage and the combined solar-plus-storage sector. With the country aiming to support domestic manufacturing and enterprise as well as a clean energy transition, batteries could be churned out of one or more Gigawatt-scale factories before long, Walawalkar said.

Published 12 July 2017

4. Blockchain and batteries will assist German grid operator in integrating renewables

‘Blockchain’ was on everybody’s lips this year as the most-talked about concept in commerce – and steps have begun to bring the distributed ledger technology into energy. Our story on energy storage system provider Sonnen partnering with grid operator TenneT to ‘virtually’ store and share renewable energy across Germany therefore easily made it into the top five stories of the year.

You can read more in-depth about this trial from Sonnen’s head of e-services, Jean-Baptiste Cornefert, along with a discussion of blockchain and energy storage from Younicos CTO Carsten Reincke-Collon, in the latest volume of PV Tech Power, here.

Published 2 May 2017

5. Large-scale dispatchable solar-plus-storage costs could drop below 10 cents per kWh, Eos claims

Another of the non-lithium, non-flow contenders made it into the top 10 news last year, as Eos Energy Storage claimed radical cost-drops for its zinc hybrid cathode batteries when paired with solar PV at utility-scale. Eos said its grid-scale Aurora-branded 1MW / 4MWh systems could be delivered at as much as 40% lower cost than an equivalent lithium system with four hours’ energy storage duration.

Published 7 February 2017

6. Flow batteries leading the way in lithium-free niches

During the course of the year, we revisited this topic several times from different angles and with views from commentators across the industry. Just how bankable are flow batteries and will they – and other new technologies – start to eat into the +95% share of energy storage deployments held by lithium to date? This, the most-read story on the subject, looked at analysis by Navigant Research.

Published 18 September 2017

7. Giant 4,000MWh Li-ion battery storage facility proposed for 800MW PV farm in Queensland

On some level, it almost doesn’t seem relevant whether or not a project is the biggest such project in the world of its type, at any given time in an industry gathering pace and scale as quickly as energy storage is. But let’s face it, it’s often a quick way to ignite interest when the world sees how quickly the size and scale of projects increases – something we’ve seen time and again in solar PV. A report on a planned mammoth project in Australia, one of several announced this year, made it into our top 10 for 2017.

Published 20 April 2017

8. Tesla launches first aggregated ‘virtual power plant’ in US

If blockchain was this year’s big buzzword in technology, the ‘virtual power plant’ is another big concept not long ago thought to be well ahead of its time, too. Technology providers have been touting their ability to aggregate the capabilities of behind-the-meter energy storage systems to create larger network assets, for some time. This was the first instance Tesla Powerwalls were interconnected by a Vermont utility to create a “single resource of shared energy”.

Published 16 May 2017

9. SDG&E and Sumitomo unveil largest vanadium redox flow battery in the US

Sumitomo Electric, a division of the Japanese conglomerate Sumitomo, which has already installed a 60MWh flow battery system for renewable energy integration in its homeland also executed the largest US redox flow energy storage system to date this year. Delivered for California utility San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), which will trial the voltage frequency control, power outage support and the shifting energy demand capabilities of the battery. At ‘just’ 2MW / 8MWh it is perhaps a drop in the ocean in the long run, but for now, it’s the biggest known system of its type in the US.

Published 17 March 2017

10. PJM’s frequency regulation rule changes causing ‘significant and detrimental harm’

Your final selection for the top 10 sounded a cautionary note. US regional transmission network operator PJM Interconnection, which was one of the first such organisations in the world to allow fast-acting batteries to compete with conventional assets to provide frequency regulation to the grid, changed its rules for participation.

The changes are a little complicated, so we’d recommend you read the story in full but in a nutshell, the national Energy Storage Association argued that storage resources are now being ordered to draw power from the grid for prolonged periods of time, which ESA argues is inconsistent with the resources’ original design and operational parameters.

Published 18 April 2017

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Energy-Storage.News 2017: Best of the guest blogs, Part 2.

The second part of our round-up of the best guest blogs of the year covers as wide a range of topics as yesterday’s list, from a mixture of experts and industry stakeholders.

We look forward to bringing you more quality content next year, but just to remind you that this is merely a selection chosen arbitrarily by the team as the year draws to a close – there were many other guest blogs, interviews, editor’s blogs and features run throughout the year that we really think are worth your time, so why not take another look at the likes of our interviews with Nancy Pfund and Jigar Shah, editor’s blogs from our team on Vattenfall’s UK frequency response project and US residential solar companies’ bids to become ‘one-stop-shops’ for their customers or our video interviews with the likes of Sonnen and Fraunhofer ISE expert Mathias Vetter.

Roll on 2018 – here are the rest of those guest blogs:

Understanding the energy storage world leaders, anticipating the next big markets – Alex Eller

As you will have seen from his previous submissions to the site, Navigant Research analyst Alex Eller likes nothing more than taking on a really big topic and attacking it in great detail. There is perhaps no bigger topic than an examination of the top-level drivers for energy storage worldwide and Eller wrote about global and country-level dynamics, as well as digging deep into some specific examples of energy system needs and economics driving activity both behind-the-meter and at utility scale.

Published 10 July 2017

Britain’s flexibility strategy: A game changer or simply warm words? – Robert Ede

This blog by Robert Ede, senior political consultant at UK-based communications agency Whitehouse Consulting, dissected the aftermath of Britain’s General Election in June and some of the relevant announcements and policies that followed, 

Ede looked at the Faraday Challenge, a near-£250 million cash injection into battery technology research and innovation, the national Flexibility Plan, analysing these and other developments and putting them into an easy-to-understand context.      

Published 7 August 2017

Household energy storage batteries: Myths and realities – Ian Murray

Ian Murray, managing director of UK storage system provider Powerflow Energy addressed some questions consumers should be asking about battery systems before buying them for their houses.   

Murray spoke up about some of the miss-selling practises he has heard about, sounding a note of particular caution when it comes to claims made about the economics of home battery storage:  

“I recently spoke to a customer who had been told he would save £1,000 (US$1,330) per year from our 2.0kWh Sundial battery model, when his solar PV system alone only produces £600 per year. There’s no way on earth those numbers stack up as he will use about 50% of the £600 within the home anyway, leaving £300 per year to be stored and used later. He would have probably bought the product regardless as he wanted to increase his energy self-consumption from his solar PV system. He just wanted to be told the truth, is that too much to ask I wonder?”

Published 2 October 2017

How important is ‘brand power’ in the world of energy storage? – Dr Scott Dwyer

According to recent estimates, somewhere in the region of 50,000 lithium battery energy storage systems have been sold worldwide for household use. This represents a fairly small installed base, but with around 50 different providers or systems available in leading markets such as Australia and Germany and the likes of IKEA putting systems on shelves in their retail stores, competition is already fierce.

Scott Dwyer, principal analyst at Delta EE, wrote about the push and pull of brand power and how it will impact both sales strategies and customer desires.

Published 4 October 2017

What information are investors looking for when it comes to energy storage? – Philipp Lobnig

As the market opens up, it isn’t just households that are looking to use their money wisely when it comes to energy storage. As you will have seen on the site, investors are also taking a keen interest. Philipp Lobnig of Enable-+, an online portal that connects investors with energy projects under development, blogged on the importance of putting together clear project proposals and gave some simple formulas for putting together a successful project ‘pitch’.

Published 30 October 2017

How California demand response has opened up to energy storage, virtual power plants – Ted Ko

Ted Ko, policy director at Stem Inc, one of the US’ leading providers of commercial and industrial (C&I) energy storage, discussed moves to open up electricity markets in the company’s home state of California.

A newly-introduced programme called the Demand Response Auction Mechanism (DRAM) forms a cornerstone of grid-operator CAISO’s transition from utility-based Demand Response (DR) programmes to wholesale market-based DR resource procurement. Ko wrote that it is still very early days, but changes like this could open up the state’s electricity markets to greater competition and increased penetration of distributed energy resources (DERs) including aggregated behind-the-meter energy storage.

Published 16 November 2017

Behind the numbers: UK’s Capacity Market register pushes grid-scale pipeline to 8GW – Lauren Cook

Up-to-the-minute snap analysis of the UK’s pre-qualification register for Capacity Market projects forms the backbone of our final contribution, which comes from Lauren Cook, analyst at Solar Media Market Research.  

As part of the Solar Media group that publishes Energy-Storage.News, you could argue that Lauren is not strictly a guest blogger, but leaving that aside, her team’s painstaking work in delving into the UK pipeline of utility-scale energy storage paints a detailed and fascinating picture.

The Capacity Market is the mechanism by which Britain pays generators to ensure the lights stay on, particularly in the winter months and activity in this sector can be a good indicator of where the energy storage industry in the UK is going.

Published 20 December 2017    

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Behind the numbers: UK’s Capacity Market register pushes grid-scale pipeline to 8GW

With the release of the register of projects to have pre-qualified for the UK’s upcoming Capacity Market auctions, the UK’s utility-scale battery storage pipeline has now reached nearly 8GW. Over the last few months we have seen a sharp rise in the number of planning applications with over 1.3GW of battery storage projects being submitted since the beginning of September 2017 alone.

Based on the trend of applications throughout the year it was clear that the capacity market register was going to include a lot of battery storage but the number and capacity of projects will have surprised most people.

The applications include a wide range of project sizes and with the Capacity Market making up just one part of a project revenue it opens the auction up to those with different business models. This could include smaller projects located behind the meter and larger projects either co-located with a generator or stand-alone, seeking to use the Capacity Market income as secure additional revenue in addition to the primary income, which could include ancillary services or arbitrage.

However, even with the clear interest in energy storage shown by the participation in the Capacity Market, there remain big question marks about how much of it will compete in the upcoming auctions once the deadline for planning applications passes and the changes to de-rating force some developers to withdraw projects. Research from the Solar Media market research team shows there could be up to 2GW of prequalified projects that have not yet submitted planning applications. There is also the possibility that some of the projects that were rejected will successfully appeal and be able to compete.

It has not proven simple to calculate exactly how much battery storage is participating in the Capacity Market. Anyone who has had a look through the results will see duplicates and multiple applications on some sites, which seems to be a strategy used by some developers and there will be different reasons behind this. In some cases we can see the total capacity of a site in the planning documents split into multiple projects in the Capacity Market. The battery duration is not included in the data released by National Grid and it is likely that this accounts for some of the duplicates, as companies will have different strategies to react to the de-rating changes which were unclear at the time of application.

The graphic below shows that there are around 500MW of projects at the “ready to build” stage, it is likely that the majority of these will be built next year and the number could be even higher based on the results of the T-1 auction, which require projects to be delivered in 2018/19. The projects from the Capacity Market register mainly fall into the “in planning” and “proposed” categories. If the developers of these projects decide to compete in the auction these projects are likely to be the ones with a chance of success in the T-1 or T-4, which demands delivery in 2021/22. 

The “proposed” category is important at this stage as it shows there is a long-term pipeline developing, although the “on hold” projects show that there is already a significant amount of drop off happening in the pipeline with some speculative projects being mothballed at the early stages before the main investment is made.

The installed capacity of battery storage projects has shot up from the 100MW reported in November with the completion of several large projects and now sits at around 200MW. This will increase in the first quarter of 2018 as the remaining projects with EFR contracts approach the deadline for completion at the end of February.

However, looking further into the year it becomes less clear and the results of the Capacity Market auction, especially the T-1, begin to have much more of an impact. There are around 2GW of battery storage projects prequalified for the T-1, which shows a level of confidence that these projects could be developed within a year and therefore are already at an advance stage of development, or are just waiting for the green light to go ahead.

In 2017 we have seen the interest in battery storage in the UK evolve into actual projects and opportunities. In 2018 as the pipeline grows and the regulations become clearer we will see even more projects being completed and successful business models being revealed.

For more information about proposed and operational storage projects, the UK Battery Storage Project Database report from Solar Media market research provides comprehensive details across more than 200 battery storage projects. For more information, click here, or email: marketresearch@solarmedia.co.uk.

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