The utility response to grid defection

Utility responses to grid defection will be one of the many topics being discussed at the Energy Storage World Forum in Berlin this May. Pic: Energy Storage World Forum.

Utility responses to grid defection will be one of the many topics being discussed at the Energy Storage World Forum in Berlin this May. Pic: Energy Storage World Forum.

By Mike Stone

Utilities are seeking new ways to respond to grid defection as the economics of solar-plus-storage make it easier for homeowners to disconnect.

A report called The Economics of Grid Defection, by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), concludes that in territories such as Hawaii off-grid solar plus storage is already economically competitive with remaining on the electricity network.

Tens of millions of customers will defect in other areas such as California and New York as solar plus storage achieves grid parity by 2030, and possibly even 2020, the RMI predicts.

And grid defection is by no means a US-only phenomenon.

In many parts of Australia and Germany, for example, the business case for residential PV and storage is still far from convincing, but that has not stopped homeowners from installing systems for a whole host of other reasons. 
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Study unveils secrets of long-duration storage

About 30% of energy storage procurement decision makers interviewed for the ESS study Beyond Four Hours said long-duration storage was “very important” for their business already. Image: ESS.

About 30% of storage procurement decision makers interviewed for the ESS study Beyond Four Hours said long-duration storage was “very important” for their business already. Image: ESS.

By Jason Deign

More than half of upcoming energy storage projects could require assets with a discharge duration of around four hours or more, according to new research.

About 30% of energy storage procurement decision makers interviewed for the ESS study Beyond Four Hours said long-duration storage was “very important” for their business already.

Another 30% said they were currently considering long-duration storage projects, 20% said it would be important in future and 10% considered it as part of a broader portfolio. Only 10% said it was not applicable to their business.

The research, carried out among energy storage procurers and project developers in association with Energy Storage Report, revealed a wide range of definitions for what constitutes a ‘long-duration’ asset.

But six out of 10 respondents claimed a requirement of more than four hours, which is generally considered beyond the cost-effective range of lithium-ion batteries commonly used for shorter-duration electricity storage. 
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Study: distributed storage is going to take over

Residential solar could become energy storage's heartland in a few years, according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Pic: SunPower.

Residential solar could become energy storage’s heartland in a few years, according to research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Pic: SunPower.

By Jason Deign

A major study published last week not only forecasts massive energy storage growth but also predicts a seismic shift in the structure of the market.

The Global Energy Storage Forecast, 2016-24, from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), predicts about 45GW and 81GWh of storage could be installed by 2024, representing an investment of USD$44bn.

The figure excludes pumped hydro capacity, of which there is currently 104GW according to 2012 US Energy Information Administration data cited by the American Energy Storage Association.

Perhaps more importantly, though, the Forecast shows worldwide behind-the-meter storage overtaking utility-scale applications between 2020 and 2021.

By 2024, predicts BNEF, 66% of all storage will be behind the meter, compared to just 16% at present.
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UK energy storage: why a Brexit may be good

Britons discussing the Brexit in a pub yesterday. Photo:

Britons discussing the Brexit in a pub yesterday. Photo:

By Jason Deign

UK renewable energy interests could face significant market disruption if Britons vote to leave the European Union (EU) in a referendum this month.

But while sectors such as wind energy fret over what a so-called ‘Brexit’ could mean for European-led subsidy programmes, whether or not a departure could harm the UK’s nascent energy storage market is less clear-cut.

In particular, the fact that storage is already being deployed in the UK without any form of government support means further growth in the market may not be dependent on political links with Europe.

Last month, for example, the UK’s National Grid launched the first battery system in Great Britain to provide sub-second frequency response services.

Hertfordshire, England-based Renewable Energy Systems won the bid to provide 2MW of storage capacity under a four-year contract.
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P2P energy player lobbies for storage

Battery storage in P2P energy networks could help businesses such as the Eden Project save money. (Pic: Jürgen Matern)

Battery storage in P2P energy networks could help businesses such as the Eden Project save money. (Pic: Jürgen Matern)

By Jason Deign

Peer-to-peer (P2P) power supplier Open Utility is planning to pressure the UK electricity market regulator towards introducing grid-balancing measures that could include energy storage.

The company, which runs an energy marketplace called Piclo, hopes to convince the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) that P2P networks are good for consumers and distributed generation asset owners.

“There are significant benefits in better balancing renewables and demand on a local electricity network,” said James Johnston, Open Utility’s CEO and co-founder. “Energy storage will be key in enabling this balancing.”

Currently, he said, UK regulations do little to encourage the use of energy storage in P2P networks. Piclo, which allows businesses to buy renewable power directly from source, does not currently include storage, for example.

However, Johnston said: “If regulations allow for it, incentivising local balancing using P2P energy matching could unlock significant financial rewards for local consumers and generators.”
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Batteries aren’t worth it to store wind

Wind farm

Batteries won’t work for wind. Pic courtesy of Gamesa.

Stanford University scientists have worked out that from an energy point of view it doesn’t make sense to store wind power in batteries. The energy cost of building the batteries is more than the value of the power that would be lost through curtailment.

The researchers compared the finding to the cost of storing cash in a safe, noting that it would not be worth paying USD$100 to store a $10 watch. Since wind power is so cheap, buying batteries to store the excess energy it produces is not worth the effort. This is not the case with photovoltaic energy, which costs more to produce in the first place.

Nor does it apply to other forms of energy storage: storing excess wind power in pumped hydro reserves, for example, is still energetically economical. The authors note that the value of batteries for excess wind energy storage could be improved by increasing their cycle life.

To be worth the investment for wind energy storage, batteries would have to last between 10,000 and 18,000 cycles, they say.

ABB builds storage system in Italy

ABB will provide Enel Distribuzione with a battery energy storage system that will enable the utility to study the benefits of using such facilities in its distribution network. The system will be installed at the Contrada Dirillo distribution substation in Ragusa province in southern Sicily.

It can provide 2MW of power for up 30 minutes and will be housed in three factory-tested containers, two containing lithium-ion batteries and a third accommodating the power conversion and energy management systems. The control system enables local, and remote control and monitoring of the installation from Enel’s network control centre.

The power converter transforms the alternating current power used in the network to the direct current power needed by the batteries and vice versa.

Opinion: a plea for joined-up thinking

This article was previously published in Marine Renewable Energy.

It seemed an innocent enough story at the time. We ran an article in which Sven Teske, director of Greenpeace International’s Renewable Energy Campaign, sounded a note of caution about Germany’s growing love affair with residential energy storage.

Germany had recently introduced incentives for battery storage that will largely encourage homeowners to store some of the power they get from roof-mounted solar panels. No problem at all with that. Only, as Teske pointed out, if homeowners are hoping to get rid of their electricity bills altogether they are in for an upset when the gloomy German winter sets in.

A residential battery pack big enough to last all winter is simply too costly to be worth it. That is why German communities might want to look at energy storage on a larger scale, believes Teske. Not everyone seems to agree, however. The article sparked spirited email and Twitter comments from observers in the energy storage sector.

System developer Younicos waded in with the notion that batteries could support solar power in the summer and wind in the winter. Leaving aside the validity or otherwise of the ideas under discussion, the episode was an instructive one for renewable energy professionals because it highlighted a much more significant issue: we don’t know where we are going.

Incentives and regulatory frameworks for renewable energy vary greatly between countries and technologies. They change radically over time, too. Thus five years ago the big opportunities for wind energy, for example, used to be onshore in places such as Spain and Germany. Now they are increasingly offshore and in countries such as the UK and France.

Much has been written about how this pick-and-choose approach to regulation damages the prospects of particular renewable energy markets. As some of these markets (notably wind and solar) start to mature, though, further cracks are starting to appear.

Take Germany: compared to most European nations, the country deserves full marks for its support for renewables, but now it is churning out significant amounts of green power it is becoming apparent that more is needed. Nobody appears to have given much thought to renewable energy surpluses, for example.

Right now, there are indications Germany’s neighbours are already losing patience with being used as dumping grounds for spare generation capacity. And it seems the country’s current support for residential battery storage is driven as much as anything by a desire to keep further renewable power, generated by homeowners, from overloading the grid.

You could argue that part of this situation is due to Germany’s late implementation of smart grid technology, which could potentially give the power network added flexibility to absorb renewable power. That may be a simplistic view, however.

More likely, each country would need to implement a combination of smart grid and energy storage technologies to be able to maximise the integration of renewable energy. Nobody seems to be thinking about how to do this.

At the European level, meanwhile, somebody should be thinking about cross-border power connections and the creation of a supergrid to ship renewable energy across the continent. Nobody appears to be doing this, either.

Finally, someone should be making sure the European strategy and objectives are closely linked to the strategy and capabilities of each country. Plenty of winter wind power coming off the North Sea? Hey, send it off to the Mediterranean. Scandinavia sweltering in a heat wave? Use some of Germany’s excess solar power to cool things down. Simple. Yet find the person working on it.

All of this poses a problem for renewable energy plant developers and operators because it means they are essentially being asked to stake heavy investments on markets which are poorly thought out and liable to change. They are also in many cases being asked to produce energy without much idea of where that energy could or should end up.

Hence ridiculous concepts such as curtailment, which essentially amounts to getting someone to invest large amounts in a plant and then forcing them to switch it off.

This is just a guess, but one suspects that with the right combination of Europe-wide smart grid, supergrid and energy storage technology, curtailment would be virtually irrelevant, as would many national infrastructure investments. Of course, the likelihood of European nations collaborating at this level is pretty far-fetched.

But there is no reason why Europe’s clean-tech industries could not lead the way. At the moment there are plenty of bodies and events for industries such as wind, solar, tidal, wave, smart grid, supergrid and energy storage, not to mention those associated with traditional power generation.

But where are the cross-links between these? Where are the pan-technology strategy sessions and planning summits? Where is the meeting of minds? This is something the energy sector is crying out for, so let us get to work on it… if only so journalists can print unassuming stories about battery storage without inviting a barrage of dissenting views.