Cleantech Market Intelligence
Winter Coming, Europe Looks to Battery Storage
As Europe prepares for the looming winter season of high peak electricity demand, large grid operators and utilities in Europe are increasingly looking to the value of battery storage on the grid. Several notable projects have emerged this year that highlight a preference for established battery providers and for one battery type: lithium ion. Each highlights a different potential pathway to market for advanced batteries in Europe.
Italy and Spain, both markets that lie at the edge of the European Union’s emerging Super Grid, are now home to two significant lithium ion battery installations. In Italy, which imports significant volumes of power, Enel has awarded a contract to NEC for the installation of batteries at a substation in the southern region of Calabria. While no substantive details about the project have been released, NEC brings nearly a century of experience developing technology and a global presence to the project. Working directly with the utility Enel highlights one potential pathway through which batteries might populate the grid.
In Spain, renewables developer Acciona has partnered with Saft to pair utility-scale solar with a 560-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery installation. The falling costs of solar power are driving solar installations globally, but distributed systems pairing solar with batteries have only begun to emerge, thanks to unique financing mechanisms like solar leasing. What Acciona and Saft are undertaking may highlight what independent power developers can do with bulk solar and utility-scale battery systems, when backed by significant experience and capital. Acciona’s 2011 revenues exceeded €6 billion. In this case, the business models for developing merchant power plants that combine renewables and batteries remain unchartered territory. The coming years will be illustrative to this end.
Providing market experience and technical knowledge, these projects could open the door for battery storage. With each installation the grid storage industry discovers a new technical or market issue, either resolved or in need of modification. The pace at which the industry is developing could allow for the emergence of new technologies, ones that may be more cost-effective or technically savvy.
These two projects highlight different approaches to battery storage development, with Enel embodying a growing technical need for storage on the part of utilities. Conversely, Acciona may offer a glimpse of a merchant developer approach. Regardless, with these early projects, Saft and NEC are carving out important first-mover positions in the European market, relying on reputations of technical achievement and deep pockets which will help them bridge the gap to the emergence of a commercial market, a market Pike Research believes is still a number of years out.