Total unveils giant French battery project

BY RICHARD HEAP:

Oil giant Total is poised to build the largest battery storage project in France.

The company announced last week that it is set to build the 25MW / 25MWh project in the port district of Dunkirk. The system is intended to provide fast reserve power to support the stability of the French grid, and is scheduled to be commissioned in late 2020.

The project is made up of 11 2.3MWh containers based on technology from Total subsidiary Saft, and the development represents investment of €15m.

This also gives us some insight into Total’s strategy. The company bought Saft, the French battery producer, for €950m in mid-2016. Its primary goal was to expand in storage, but its secondary goal is to use this technology to support its long-term aim of being a top three player in solar globally by 2036.

Patrick Pouyanné, chairman and CEO at Total, said so in the announcement of this project on 12th March. He said that stationary energy storage is “critical to the expansion of renewable energy, which is intermittent by nature”.

Over the last couple of weeks, our Energy Storage Report analysis pieces have focused on the investment credentials of storage as standalone assets – but we must remember that intermittent renewables will help to create this demand.

This scheme is also not the only foray into storage by France or Total.

Total is part of an experiment with Blue Solutions and Nidec ASI to deploy storage systems at three sites across France, with total capacity of 32MW / 98MWh, to see how effective they are at reducing congestion on the network of French transmission operator RTE.

In addition, RTE awarded contracts for 253MW of energy storage projects in its low-emissions Capacity Market auction earlier this month; and other large French utilities including EDF and Engie are active in storage schemes in their home country too. It is a strong sign that the French storage market should be on the radars of investors.

We partly attribute this interest to the need for France’s global utilities to stay on top of the latest developments in storage, which could play a central role in their investment strategies in the next 5-10 years. It makes sense to innovate in their home market. Many other countries are doing likewise.

But we also think that France is scoping out the potential for storage as the government makes big decisions about the direction of its energy policy.

In the second half of the 2010s, the French government sought to move the country’s energy mix away from nuclear. However, in October, the government tasked EDF with building six nuclear reactors by 2035 at an initial estimated cost of €46bn. Those costs will only go in three directions – up, up and up – but the desire to look again at nuclear is obvious.

One benefit of nuclear, according to its proponents, is its reliability. It makes sense to us therefore that the government is looking at how solar and wind, backed by energy storage, can be similarly reliable. Can it be the backbone of the French electricity system? That’s why we must closely follow what happens at this Total development, and other schemes in France in the next two years.

Huge national investment decisions rest on whether these projects succeed.

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