Why storage business cases depend on weather

Dr Björn Peters will be speaking at the Energy Storage World Forum in Berlin this year. Pic: Energy Storage World Forum.

Dr Björn Peters will be speaking at the Energy Storage World Forum in Berlin this year. Pic: Energy Storage World Forum.

By Jason Deign

The case for implementing storage in electricity networks should be based on long-term weather analyses, attendees at the Energy Storage World Forum will hear.

Including weather patterns as one of the main variables in a business case analysis will help show niches where storage “makes a lot of sense,” said Dr Björn Peters, who will be speaking on the topic at the Forum in Berlin this May.

For off-grid mining operations in hot climates, for example, “there might be a very good business case for solar storage” compared to diesel.

Within grids, meanwhile, storage can offer value in helping to balance out short-term fluctuations in intermittent renewable energy.

However, Peters’ research is worrying for policy makers who hope to rely completely on intermittent renewable energy generation to reach European carbon reduction targets. 

Little wind or sun for several days

His findings suggest weather fronts where there is little wind or sun for several days could leave Europe struggling to find generation capacity in the absence of fossil-fuel-based power.

The amount of pumped-hydro storage needed is simply too big to be commercially viable. Lithium-ion batteries could not do the job either, he said.

He estimates available lithium reserves of 30 million tonnes are one or two orders of magnitude too low to even enable global vehicle electrification, let alone provide balancing power.

“With great speed, we are moving in a direction that leads nowhere,” he warned.

“We have to do weather analysis to understand the storage business case; we can’t rely on weather-dependent production without understanding the weather.” 

Presenting at the Energy Storage World Forum

Peters will be presenting a session called Harnessing Weather Analysis for Evaluating Grid and Residential Storage Business Cases at the Energy Storage World Forum.

The issue of how to cope with calm, cloudy spells is a significant one for low-carbon energy planning, claims Peters, who is an adviser to one of the main German political parties.

It might be prohibitively costly to rely on non-intermittent forms of renewable power, such as biomass, tidal or geothermal, although the latter could significantly cut the amount of energy needed for heating, Peters noted.

Another option is to keep existing carbon-fuel power plants on standby and only fire them up when intermittent renewables fail. That option “is feasible,” said Peters, “and it would not cost trillions, but maybe a few hundred billion.”

However, it would require current coal plants to be scrapped in favour of gas. And as the intermittent fraction of generation increases a greater proportion of wind and solar would have to be curtailed, which is highly wasteful.   

Achieving carbon-free electricity across Europe

Instead, Peters believes the best way to achieve carbon-free electricity across Europe is by having nuclear power in the mix, although he is decidedly against current mainstream reactor technologies.

“It is a scandal that nuclear energy has been built so far with reactors that are not inherently safe and where you have to keep waste for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said.

Instead, Peters believes Europe must embrace reactor technologies that shut down automatically on overheating and produce waste that only needs to be stored for around 200 years.

Designs such as the very-high-temperature reactor meet these requirements and have been built in several countries, but have failed to catch on commercially. Furthermore, nuclear energy as an industry is in recession.

Two of its biggest players, Areva and Toshiba, are in trouble. And in the US “firms are declining to operate and declining to build nuclear power plants due to poor financial performance,” the Nuclear Economics Consulting Group says. 

Even less research on weather patterns

Resolving the challenge of Europe’s future energy mix is important because similar issues may arise in other parts of the world, where there is currently even less research into weather patterns.

And getting it right is also vital because if Europe were to suffer a widespread, two-week blackout it might send the continent back into the Stone Age, Peters claimed.

Now “nobody knows how to farm, how to raise cattle,” he said. “We would essentially be thrown back to a time before agriculture. After two weeks without power, everything would break down.”

2 Comments on "Why storage business cases depend on weather"

  1. This is quite a overly simplistic viewpoint for energy storage use cases and value proposition. This is small, binary viewpoint – each asset does one thing and that’s all it does, one value and one function. Storage to balance renewables is too simplistic. ES is about grid-wide flexibility, resiliency, and for the first time ever on the grid you can add capacity while lowering overall costs with renewables and storage and clean dispatchable loads. Storage provides a fundamental efficiency as a buffer to the grid, and both modular storage (batteries) and long duration (CAES, Hydro, Flow batteries) are necessary to achieve the better outcomes on the grid than legacy assets ever could. A diverse mix of generating assets with wind, solar, hydro combined with a significant energy storage penetration rate made up of a wide mix of technologies (battery, thermal, CAES, Flow batteries, hydro, and more) at different scales can operate the grid more efficiently, provide higher reliability/resiliency, at a lower cost. While weather is a meaningful metric to quantify and plan for in grid operations, this line of thinking belies a wider benefit and value of deploying storage systems.

  2. Energy Storage Report | March 12, 2017 at 7:47 pm | Reply

    Many thanks–that’s a great comment. But what is the optimum mix to balance grid stability with carbon reduction? Has anyone done serious research into this? And what happens if we get the mix wrong?

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