by Brittney Elzarei, Senior Policy Officer at EASE, the European Association for Storage of Energy
Without energy storage, Europe will struggle to integrate increasing solar and wind output into the energy system.
The deployment of variable renewables such as wind and solar is accelerating worldwide, driven by massive cost reductions and government and citizens’ efforts to fight climate change.
Over the past decades, Europe has shifted from an energy system dominated by centralised fossil fuel generation, that can match energy consumption at all times, to a system with more renewables, both large-scale projects and small-scale PV installed at consumer level. This change is nothing short of a revolution, and would have been considered impossible just a few decades ago.
Although this transformation brings many opportunities – clean energy, less pollution, empowered consumers who can actively produce electricity to cover their own needs, or to feed into the energy system – it also entails major challenges. Most importantly, what do we do when consumers need electricity but there is no wind or sunlight?
Decoupling energy generation and consumption, both geographically and over time, has therefore become a top priority. It is increasingly recognised by policymakers in Brussels and elsewhere that new technologies and approaches must be developed to integrate renewables.
Storage is one of the most promising technologies for a renewables-dominated system. Energy storage technologies allow us to store excess energy and discharge it when there is too little generation or too much demand. There are many different types of technologies in development and on the market today: batteries, pumped hydro-storage, thermal storage, flywheels, ultracapacitors, liquid air, compressed air, power-to-gas, and others.
What all storage technologies have in common is that they provide flexibility at different time-scales – seconds and minutes, hours, weeks, and eventually months – which will be essential to achieve a high share of renewables. Storage can help consumers increase their self-consumption of solar PV, or to generate value by providing flexibility to the system. Storage can also help defer costly investments in transmission and distribution infrastructure, extending the lifetime of existing assets and helping grids function more efficiently.
Industrial consumers can install storage to reduce consumption peaks, which can entail costly charges, and to provide back-up power if there is a black-out. In addition, storage at any level can offer system and ancillary services, safeguarding the secure and efficient operation of the electricity system.
Today’s transport, heating and cooling sectors depend on fossil fuels, but through electrification these sectors could run on clean energy with the help of energy storage. For instance, storage deployment could help support the roll-out of fast-charging infrastructure for EVs, particularly in areas with weak grids.
Given the immense value of storage in helping integrate increasing shares of renewables, it is no surprise that storage deployments are quickly increasing. According to data from EASE and Delta-ee, annual installed electrical storage capacity (electrical storage excluding pumped hydro) is expected to grow to six times its current level between 2015 and 2019, from 0.6 GWh to 3.5 GWh.
There is a huge need for flexibility in the energy system, so the value of storage will only grow as the share of renewables in the electricity mix increases. For storage to reach its full potential, policymakers across Europe need to work on a few key points.
First of all, more public funding must be made available for research, demonstration, and deployment across the energy storage industry to help drive down costs and bring new technologies to market. Innovations in technologies and applications, however, are not enough. Regulatory frameworks and the energy market design must evolve to remove barriers to storage deployment and allow storage to access different revenue streams.
Policymakers across the EU are working to finalise the Clean Energy for All Europeans package, which addresses many of the key barriers hampering storage deployment. But it will take many, many years, and significant political commitment, to pave the way for a truly decarbonised energy system, with renewables and storage forming the backbone.
Read more about the energy storage technologies being deployed today for a variety of applications here.