Why The Business Case For Energy Storage Depends on The Weather

According to Dr Björn Peters, a speaker at our upcoming energy storage forum, putting weather patterns as a main variable within a business case analysis will show where energy storage makes more sense, and in some cases a critical decision.

For off-grid mining operations in hot climates, for example, there might be a better business case for solar storage, compared to diesel. Within grids, meanwhile, energy 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. His findings suggest weather fronts with little wind or sun for several days would 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 also estimates that even available lithium reserves of 30 million tonnes are two or three 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.” Peters will be presenting his research and findings on the subject in a session called Harnessing Weather Analysis for Evaluating Grid and Residential Storage Business Cases at the Energy Storage World Forum, Berlin 8-12th May 2017.

Dr Peters theories on the issue

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

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

2) 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.

3)  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 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 thevery-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.

Why the right energy mix is vital to Europe

Resolving the challenge of Europe’s future energy mix is not only important for Europe but for other parts of the world with even less research into their weather patterns.

Getting it right is vital to Europe because if we were to suffer a widespread two-week blackout it might send the continent back into the Stone Age, Peters claimed. At a time when “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.”

If you want to know more about this and other topics directly from end users of energy storage technologies join us at one of these annual events: The Energy Storage World Forum (Grid Scale Applications), or The Residential Energy Storage Forum, or one of our Training Courses.


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