Energy Storage Nibbles Around the Edges of the Power Grid

Held once again in Düsseldorf, Germany’s huge exhibition center March 13–15, the 12th annual International Renewable Energy Storage (IRES) Conference and Energy Storage Europe Conference attracted roughly 4,500 international visitors, and more than 170 exhibitors, from over 60 nations.

While showcasing the latest in energy storage technologies, presenters discussed developing markets worldwide, offered detailed case studies, and explained how transforming renewable energy into hydrogen, both for storage and for additional applications, is becoming an ever-more cost-effective “green gas” solution.

Main themes at IRES (Figure 1) included flexible sector coupling and de-coupling as well as system-useful storage solutions that stabilize networks. Several speakers detailed how they see storage continuing to nibble around the edges of the grid as it’s currently configured. Many envisioned that, in the near-term, storage systems will essentially displace expensive fossil-fueled peaker plants, discharging banked emissions-free renewable-generated energy instead of relying on natural gas or coal.




1. IRES.
More than 4,500 visitors and 170 exhibitors attended this year’s energy storage event in Düsseldorf, Germany. In this image, Dr. Dirk Uwe Sauer, RWTH Aachen University addresses the audience. Source: Lee Buchsbaum

Storage takes many forms: some of it is based on heat pumps and pumped hydro, some on banks of lithium-ion batteries, and now new hydrogen storage units. But all systems are geared to take advantage of ever-increasing amounts of cheap renewable energy from solar and wind. Indeed, as more renewables come online in Europe and worldwide, the need to balance load and demand as well as store intermittent energy has long been a driving factor. But as more comes online and prices fall, batteries-in-a-box container units and other mobile solutions are also finding niches both in “island” and distributed grids worldwide.

Though currently small and medium-sized companies are the main drivers behind energy storage’s growth, major utilities, leading oil, gas, and energy providers, and industrial companies are increasingly teaming up with storage firms in partnerships similar to renewable energy projects. Examples included one system in California—deployed by Wärtsilä in partnership with AltaGas—that was able to ensure grid stability after an established fossil-fueled system failed. Another firm, the dual American and German company Younicos, owned by Aggreko, highlighted its utility-scale battery storage systems like the 49-MW/24.5-MWh project currently under construction for Centrica PLC in Cumbria, UK, that is designed to provide frequency response, grid resilience, and balancing operations. Designed to respond to demand fluctuations in less than a second, it will also hold enough power to meet the needs of roughly 50,000 homes. Not so ironically, it’s being constructed on the site of the former Roosecote coal-fired power station.

Additionally, several presenters focused on transportation solutions, both from hydrogen fuel cells and batteries—all linked back to an increasingly flexible grid. Presenters discussed how in Japan soon nearly a million electric cars will drive the creation of a new energy grid there as vehicle manufacturers and energy providers continue to abandon internal combustion engines.

Going forward, however, presenters lamented that many of the biggest remaining challenges are not technical but regulatory as prices for all components fall and governments struggle to create new frameworks. POWER magazine will detail more of these systems and challenges in the May 2018 issue.

Lee Buchsbaum (www.lmbphotography.com), a former editor and contributor to Coal Age, Mining, and EnergyBiz, has covered coal and other industrial subjects for nearly 20 years and is a seasoned industrial photographer.