Vattenfall’s Gunnar Groebler shares the utility’s storage plans

BY RICHARD HEAP:

Are governments now mandating storage in permits for renewable energy projects? That is the intriguing suggestion in an interview this week.

On Wednesday, Vattenfall head of wind Gunnar Groebler spoke to Adam Barber, managing director at Energy Storage Report’s parent firm Tamarindo Group, for the latest in WindEurope’s webinar series Sofa Talks.

In a wide-ranging discussion, the pair covered the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the growth of onshore and offshore wind in Europe, as well as the policy landscape for wind in the European Union. But the most interesting aspects for us were Groebler’s views on energy storage.

He discussed the Swedish utility’s wind, solar and storage hybrid Haringvliet, which is due to be operational by the end of 2020. He also said that adding storage to a renewable energy development would help to win community approval; and that more governments would demand storage systems.

Unpacking storage

The 60MW Haringvliet project in the Netherlands is set to be made up of 38MW of solar panels and 22MW of onshore wind, with a 12MWh battery.

Groebler said that the project’s six onshore turbines, which are based on Goeree-Overflakkee island in South Holland, have been installed; and that work on mounting the 124,000 solar panels is due to begin in early May.

That relies on Vattenfall being able to secure the workers it needs from eastern Europe despite upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, although he added that work had not been disrupted so far.

Finally, the battery from Alfen is due to be installed later this year. The system is based on technology used in BMW car batterites, and is the second utility-scale battery deal between Alfen and Vattenfall. The pair revealed a third – a deal for a 20MWh system in Swedish city Uppsala – earlier this month.

“It’s one of my favourite projects right now,” said Groebler. “It is the first time we’ve optimised this whole complex against the market, which is very exciting.”

But why add the storage element?

He said there were two reasons. First, because it would help the project to operational more efficiently; and second, because it would support the grid and thus make it easier to secure government permits.

“We still need to learn a lot about how to run such a site and really optimise it, so that is clearly on us now,” he explained. “A hybrid plant brings your cost further down because you can utilise the grid connection in a different way, much more efficiently.”

This means the scheme can deploy electricity to the grid in a more consistent way than a standalone wind or solar farm, which by their natures are more intermittent. This boosts grid stability and can make it easier to win public support for wind and solar, because it shows the developer is addressing concerns about intermittency.

Community support

He said: “The whole discussion we are having with onshore especially is local acceptance, and through such a hybrid plant you can utilise the demand you’re having in a much better way and that should… improve the acceptance in the communities around.”

At Haringvliet, this was part of the permit: “That’s the interesting thing that, from the governmental perspective, they see a need to work more hybrid projects as part of the permitting discussion,” he said. This increases the potential for trade bodies such as WindEurope, which Groebler chairs, to lobby for extra support for hybrid projects.

“First of all, it’s working as we’ve proved. Secondly, it’s an optimised use of the plot of land. It’s more community benefits and it further drives down costs. That to me is one of the key arguments, in countries where we still have the support schemes this can help to further drive down the levelised energy cost, and thus reduce the bills.”

The addition of storage into permitting processes for wind and solar firms would provide extra momentum for the growth of energy storage. This would force more companies to look at adding it to their schemes, even if they don’t currently see value in hybrids. And as the European Union works out plans for its Green New Deal, this growing support for storage could be well-timed.

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