Energy storage fans may have cause for optimism if last week’s European Commission (EC) presidential election leads to more joined-up thinking on energy policy. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron was strongly opposed to the election of Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the EC partly on account of the latter’s strong euro-centric stance, which the British leader claimed could stymie hopes of European reform.
However, the appointment of a known euro federalist could also herald a move towards further cross-border thinking on energy generation and distribution, which in turn could favour the development of storage as part of a comprehensive policy package.
As previously covered in Energy Storage Report, the current Russia-Ukraine gas crisis has focused attention on European energy security, an area in which storage could play a significant role.
Meanwhile, policy makers are grappling with the implications of large, intermittent renewable energy inflows from generation sources such as offshore wind and solar PV.
Their concerns are likely to grow as these inflows increase, particularly as some European member states, such as Ireland, are building renewable energy infrastructure with the express intention of exporting it to other countries.
Coping so far with growth in renewables
In fairness, Europe appears to be dealing relatively well with the growth in renewable power generation so far.
As Benedict De Meulemeester, chief executive of the energy consultancy E&C observed in a blog posting: “Industry insiders have always said that the intermittency issues of renewables would cause problems.
“Well, Germany has an extremely low outage rate of 15 minutes per power consumer per year, one of the lowest figures in the world.
“Power supply systems have proven to be much more flexible and capable of adapting to changing circumstances than most analysts estimate. Utilities, analysts and politicians acknowledge that there is no problem at this moment.”
Nevertheless, even if European grids are can deal with foreseeable growth in intermittent generation, it still makes sense to think beyond national borders in order to maximise the opportunities and benefits of energy production and distribution across the continent.
Currently, the ability to offload energy around Europe is seriously hampered by a lack of cross-border infrastructure.
Maximising the benefits for energy producers
Spain, for example, has ample renewable energy resources (and a clean-tech industry desperate for revenues) but cannot sell power into European markets because of meagre grid connections to the rest of the continent.
Bigger, more efficient interconnectors could help countries such as Spain and Ireland to export power more widely. Greater access to markets could also help foster the development of energy storage.
Cost-effective storage might allow energy providers to hold some of their power in reserve and sell it into markets when the price is highest, maximising their return on investment.
And if transport costs are reduced far enough, for example through the creation of a high-voltage direct current ‘super grid’, utilities might find that buying this stored energy is still cheaper than investing in additional peaker plant capacity.
At the same time, believes Greenpeace International renewable energies director Sven Teske, storage could benefit from pan-European regulation around the priority given to dispatching different types of energy into the grid.
Currently, he notes, the business case for grid-scale energy storage, and predominantly pumped hydro, is constrained in Europe because renewables are bringing down spot market prices.
Helping the business case for energy storage
The result is that energy storage is squeezed between the point at which renewable supplies dip and when base-load plants kick in. A better arrangement, he argues, would be for storage to be given priority over gas, coal, lignite and nuclear.
“Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Austria are keen on stepping into the pumped hydro storage market,” he says. “The problem is that the current [environment] kills the business concept of hydro power plants, which is absurd. That needs to be changed.”
Such a change would also hasten Europe along the path to decarbonisation. “We demand a 45% renewable primary energy target by 2030, which basically would mean we are heading up to about 75% electricity by 2030.
“If we want to get there, we do need quite a lot of regulation in terms of priority dispatch. We have everything in place, we just need to make it more efficient.”
Nevertheless it is clear there are a great number of ‘ifs’ standing in the way of energy storage becoming an accepted part of Europe’s energy mix. How many of them will come to pass remains to be seen, but having a Euro-centric man at the top might not hurt.
Written by Jason Deign