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The battery storage system that could close down coal power

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(Editors note: This is part of a series of interviews and stories that will run over the next few weeks looking at Germany’s Energiewende, and the transition of Germany’s energy grid to one dominated by renewable energy. You can find them all in our Insight section).

 

You don’t have to go far inside the headquarters of German battery storage company Younicos, or even their website for that matter, to find out what they are about. “Let the fossils rest in peace,” the logo suggests. Another sign at their technology centre east of Berlin proclaims: “You are now leaving the CO2 producing sector of the world.”

Screen Shot 2013-11-21 at 3.48.40 amThis sign is designed to mimic those which adorned the checkpoints that separated the various sectors of east and west Berlin before the wall was torn down. Younicos believe they have a technology that is equally disruptive, and can break down one of the last barriers to 100 per cent renewable energy: the need to run fossil fuel generation to control the “frequency” of the grid, and the other system services such as voltage control.

The company, based in Berlin Adlershof, on the eastern outskirts of the capital, is developing 10MW-sized battery parks, using battery systems that it says can stabilise the grid faster, cheaper and with greater precision that conventional generation.

It says that these systems can substitute 10 times the capacity from conventional generation – coal, nuclear and gas – and at a fraction of the cost. According to Younicos spokesman Philip Hiersemenzel, each battery park can be installed at around € 15 million, which means that for an investment of €3 billion, conventional generation in Germany’s 80GW would no longer be needed – at least for frequency and stability purposes.

This is critical is Germany. The sheer scale of their solar PV installations – it has more than 35GW – means that on some days it already produces more than half the country’s electricity needs. But baseload generators have to keep running for the sake of frequency control and system stability, this has caused spot prices to plunge well below zero.

For an 80GW grid, it needs about 20GW and 25GW of “must run” balancing to maintain frequency and keep the grid stable. Younicos says 2GW of its battery parks would render this need redundant. Around 200 of it battery parks could be installed around the country at a total cost of around €3 billion.

(Of course, that is not the only impediment to 100 per cent renewables – enough solar and wind power needs to be built, and other storage is needed, battery storage to respond to variations in load on a minute by minute and hour by hour basis, and longer-term or “seasonal” storage, which can take excess production and store it – synthetic diesel, hydrogen etc.).

Younicos’ claims are bold, but they are not impulsive. The company was founded in 2006 by executives at German solar manufacturer Solon, who were frustrated that the company could not raise finance for battery storage, which they saw as the next key development.

They have taken a long-term view. Hiersemenzel says that while other companies had legacy systems, and struggled to develop new ideas without thinking about those, Younicos did not have the same inhibitions.

It saw the sweet spot in the market in developing software, and has spent the past six years quietly going about the research, testing various battery storage technologies, and developing the proprietary software to make smart inverters to tackle this market.

battery storage

The battery storage test centre at Younicos

In 2009, Younicos  started operating a 1MW testing facility at its headquarters (pictured), using office space abandoned by Solon. It is the first of its size in Europe. It features a 1MW/6MWh sodium sulfur battery and last year it added a 200kW/200kW lithium-ion battery array, and integrated it into the German frequency regulation market.

The €15 million technology centre uses weather data to simulate wind and solar output anywhere in the world. And it uses real power flows to test the systems, to test loads, and to test transmission and distribution issues. He says it serves as a training facility, as well as an education facility for journalists, politicians and bankers.

Younicos is privately held, although Samsung is at least one shareholder, having invested in the company when it took up its lithium-ion batteries. Another shareholder is Gildemeister, which manufactures the Cellstrom Vanadium-Redox Flow batteries.

It is installing a more conventional battery storage system on the island of Graciosa in the Azores, in the Atlantic Ocean. Using the same combination of battery technologies as at their test centre, but at a scale of 2.7MW/10MWh, it will combine with 5.4MW of wind turbines, and 1MW of solar PV.

This means that 100 per cent of the output from solar and wind can be used, the island can be up to 70 per cent renewable by 2018, and save €18 million of diesel that needs to be shipped in by tanker on a weekly basis. The next step is to use “excess energy” to turn local bio waste into synthetic diesel from a back up system. That will mean that the island becomes 100% renewable and 100 fuel independent.

A lithium-ion battery storage test facilityBut the truly unique aspect of Younicos technology is in the battery park. It is currently building a 5MW/5MWh lithium-ion battery park in Schwerin, north of berlin, for a local distributor. It will be the largest commercial battery in Europe.

It is also providing its software for a 6MW/10MWh lithium-ion battery park in England, which will be used for peak shaving as well as other system services such as frequency control and balancing. Both these projects will be commissioned in 2014, and the company is currently in talks about its first commercial 10MW battery park.

“The conventional generators will fight us on this , but they will lose.”  Hiersemenzel says.

“They will say they need to be running, need capacity market. But we have to choose between systems. Either you have one system optimised for nuclear and coal, or one for renewables.

“This is a choice  that should be made now. Just tacking on a renewables system onto an old one just makes it more expensive.”

Hiersemenzel compares the network operators to penguins on an ice shelf. Most are huddling together, waiting for a few individuals to jump into the ocean first, and see that they don’t get eaten by killer whales. Once the coast is clear, they will all jump in at the same time.

Hiersemenzel doesn’t think much of smart grids. “I don’t have a problem with smart grids, I just don’t see their business case. I don’t think we will use electric vehicles, smart phones or washing machines to stabilize the grid.

“We don’t need duplication of communications with normal grid. We should not let IT people get too much further into the grid, we should leave it as simple as possible.”

This graph below shows how their remote storage system works. The purple area is the key. When it is above the line, it is charging from excess wind and solar generation, when it is below the line, it is discharging to make up for the lack of renewables. Notice in the bottom graph how it smooths out the frequency issues for the local grid, which should operate at or close to 50 hertz.

Younicos battery storage

 

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  • barrie harrop

    Truly fantastic,expect in the next 10 years or so it might be commercially viable?

    • http://energyinachangingclimate.info/ Martin Nicholson

      By then Germany will have built a number of new coal plants that no one will want to shutter.

      • Giles Parkinson

        I think all the german generation companies are making it very clear that they are not building any new coal plants, apart from the ones they had already committed to before the Fukushima shutdown. And most of the new ones have the happy advantage of being able to be switched off when demand is low. They’ve seen this coming.

      • Giles

        Hang in there Martin! As you well know, all the german generation companies are making it very clear that they are not building any new coal plants, apart from the ones they had already committed to before the Fukushima shutdown. And most of the new ones have the happy advantage of being able to be switched off when demand is low. They’ve seen this coming.

        • Bob_Wallace

          They are building less capacity than they have scheduled to close and they recently announced that they will have about 3 GW surplus capacity.

        • http://energyinachangingclimate.info/ Martin Nicholson

          Of planned 42.5 GW of major power plants to be built in Germany by 2020, 2/3 will be new coal and gas generators.

          http://thebreakthrough.org/index.php/programs/energy-and-climate/germanys-energiewende-a-cautionary-tale/

          Probably worth a read.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Too bad you aren’t an honest enough person to also report the capacity of the coal plants being closed as these new, much more efficient plants come on line.

            But I guess FUDs gotta FUD.

          • Giles

            Deary me. don’t they go to lengths to distort things. I’ll go through this piece by piece when i got a day to spare – a double retort if you like. wish i had their funding.

          • wideEyedPupil

            Are they funded by nukes, Giles? I just went to check them out last week because a friend had interned with them once (prob wouldn’t be so proud of that now). There was a pro-nuke story and I tried to explain things like LCOE and the Citi Evolution of Energy report to them and how Nuclear energy is not the panacea. Some intelligent debate but mostly trolls looking for any excuse to bash those dastardly “environmentalists” who are responsible for Climate Change because the oppose the only real form of renewable energy — Uranium and Thorium fast breeder reactors. I suspect it’s a greenwash front for the Nuclear industries.

            What’s your mail say, Giles?

          • wideEyedPupil

            The BreakThrough Institute… next you’ll be quoting the IPA, Martin!

          • http://energyinachangingclimate.info/ Martin Nicholson

            Well it all comes down to who or what you trust. Giles trusts in the concept of 100% renewable energy as I suspect most of his readers do. I trust in the value of nuclear power to address climate change. So we will make our choices accordingly. It’s actually got very little to do with rational decision making.

          • wideEyedPupil

            Clearly for +you+ it’s got little to do with rational discussion, Martin!

            We trust in the modelling of renewable energy deployment by the AEMO and the evidence of the cost curves (LCOE) of +existing+ technologies over the last two to three decades.

            While you pray to the thorium gods and trust in an industry (nuclear power and weapons industry) that has proven as corrupting and irresponsible as Fossil Fuels industries. The culpability at Fukushima defies belief and faith both.

            I know nukes have sizable health and climate advantages over coal and gas when they are behaving themselves and when captains of industry haven’t cut to many corners. But coal and gas aren’t the benchmark anymore, wind, solarPV and increasingly solarCST are the benchmarks.

          • Michel Syna Rahme

            Why do the people you refer to Martin have far less faith in Nuclear energy expansion than yourself? Honestly, can you please answer, for I’m curious. While your at it Martin can you please share your thoughts on the long term potential issues / risks associated to nuclear waste and the mass expansion of nuclear energy globally?

          • http://energyinachangingclimate.info/ Martin Nicholson

            I’m currently writing a paper that covers your first questions and may tangentially answer your second one. Look out for it.

          • wideEyedPupil

            I’m sure you will overlook the environmental destruction yellowcake mining does (including failed self reporting of contamination of world heritage wetlands with radioactive isotopes and heavy metals) and the senseless water extraction for free which is draining the oases in the deserts its thirst is so vast. Pro-nukes crowd always does.

          • Bob_Wallace

            But that doesn’t happen at the reactor site and …

            Hey! Look over there! A wind turbine caught on fire in Scotland!!!

          • Calamity_Jean

            Wasn’t that several years ago?

          • Bob_Wallace

            Apparently there are turbine fires from time to time. The Scotland one got a lot of exposure since it was videoed.

  • Keith

    This sounds like a game changer in the way that Vector In New Zealand is offering batteries plus solar PV to its customers and avoiding big capital investments.

    The overall economics will be interesting (ie not just the cost of the battery parks, but also saving from turning off coal plants). Has Younicos crunched the numbers?

    It won’t work if we wait a decade…. has to be a “now” solution.

    • suthnsun

      “It says that these systems can substitute 10 times the capacity from conventional generation – coal, nuclear and gas – and at a fraction of the cost.”

      This is one of the most important ideas that needs to be explained to the anti-renewables brigade – coal is shockingly wasteful as a grid services provider, response times are way too slow and the energy required to rebalance grows exponentially with time. PJM network in US are using a variety of technologies with a compensation framework designed to reward participants for these services. They send signals for services, which are automatically taken up or rejected by the providers on a millisecond scale. Hybrid lead carbon battery systems like CSIRO Ultrabattery and Axion PbC are commercially viable and commercial sales are starting. Once service life of these technologies is widely proven there is very little remaining impediment to an ultra low emissions grid.

    • Giles

      The 5MW facility at Schwerin is being built on commercial terms, so will the 10MW plants they are currently negotiating. This is not a decade away

  • sean

    interesting substitute for flywheels.

    Readers may be interested to know that the frequency of the grid speeds up when there is an excess of generation, and slows down when there is an excess of consumption. If we had power prices connected to the frequency of the grid this would encourage consumption of excess, and free up generation when there is too much consumption.

    I don’t believe there will be a particularly big market in storage, as long as storage remains expensive and inefficient. Perhaps a few hours worth max. Everything else will be made up with demand modification.(minerals smelting/refining for example)

    • wideEyedPupil

      Many industrial processes can’t operate on random discretionary price or frequency signals. You can’t have smelting heating up and cooling down all over the shop.

      Batteries are about to come down a cost curve likened by many to that which has seen solar modules 10% of the cost they were 8 years ago. Once EVs get going you’ll see huge incremental improvements in battery storage which may well have crossover benefits for utility and built environment energy storage.

      • JonathanMaddox

        Actually, smelters can be remarkably flexible when their designers and operators choose for them to be.

        http://www1.eere.energy.gov/analysis/pdfs/alcoa_dewayne_todd.pdf

        • wideEyedPupil

          Good point smelters are used to keep the old ‘baseload’ power generators in business as they can be cut from the grid at any old time to curtail demand. But you can do it so long that the stuff solidifies. What is coal going to do with all the Alcoa smelters closing up shop?

  • http://energyinachangingclimate.info/ Martin Nicholson

    What gives with the diesel generators! More polluting that natural gas.

    • sean

      example was given from a small island that used diesel generators.

    • Giles Parkinson

      No kidding, but that is what Graciosa and most islands use. This systems reduces diesel consumption.

    • Giles

      No kidding, but that is what Graciosa and most islands use. This systems
      reduces diesel consumption.

  • Zvyozdochka

    Storage is the game-changing technology, so it’s odd to see the sad nuclear boosters sceptical. They need storage as well, otherwise we have to massively overbuild their pet-NPPs at extraordinary cost.

  • Dissenter

    “But baseload generators have to keep running for the sake of frequency control”?

    The main problem with solar PV in Germany is the seasonal mismatch. Batteries will not solve that problem.

    • JonathanMaddox

      Batteries will not do for seasonal storage, no. Power-to-gas should do nicely.

    • Bartleby

      wind power is greatest during dark winter months

  • EcoHustler

    This is awesome but we should also become comfortable with the idea that we are all going to use LESS energy in the future – and thats cool: http://www.ecohustler.co.uk/2013/07/09/switching-on-low-energy-lifestyles-isnt-scary/

    • Chris Marshalk

      Except when your got a DUMB, backward thinking Australian Abbott Government.

    • Carmine Ventura JR

      How are we going to use less power in the future ? As corporations push more must have devices on the public ?

      • Bob_Wallace

        Our devices and appliances are becoming much more energy efficient.

        We get the same amount of light from a ~20 watt LED or CFL as from a 100 watt incandescent.

        A 55″ wide screen TV uses about half as much as a 19″ CRT TV.

        Current refrigerators use less than half as much electricity as did refrigerators sold 10-20 years ago.

        • riverrat37

          … and my hybrid air-source heat pump hot water heater is much more efficient than other fossil / electrical heaters of the past.

  • hellbentgerbils

    if it works…use it.

  • Carmine Ventura JR

    Ill be impressed when cold fusion becomes a reality.

    • Bob_Wallace

      And I’ll be surprised.

      Actually, I’ll probably be too old to be surprised. Hard to surprise one when they have already shuffled off their mortal coil.

  • Jan Hulsbergen

    Great idea.
    About stopping ICT development, people are not that much interested in over-investment. For this initiative it means that regional planning would want to know the capacity to invest in. After all, a battery is another capacity provider such as the DCQ percentages at wellhead, UGS for natural gas, the ability of powerplants to ramp up and down, PV inserts, capacity-profile-polluting wind, and also demand management. Data should be secured by the ICT solution to remain with the party generating such data. No way without ict, unfortunately because I am definitely post-google generation. We build a smart-grid application that does not bore industry with energy, and that does not require energy suppliers to interfere in processes. Still, it will manage demand capacity, make it more predictable and at the same time increase industrial production. ICT for grid management should go beyond the shut-down arrangements as proposed by the leading initiatives. Contact me for any interest!