China’s Growing Need for Electricity Storage

As China develops its renewable energy at an alarming rate, energy storage is becoming increasingly essential.
Published: Mon 04 Aug 2014

China's electricity network is set to be the largest in the world-in terms of the capacity of energy generation installations and the amount of energy being produced.

China’s renewables growing fast

China also has the world's largest wind farms and the largest capacity for producing photovoltaic modules. Nowhere else in the world is such a large sum of money being invested in renewable energy.

Xie Zhenhua, vice-chairman and chief climate negotiator at the National Development and Reform Commission, says that a carbon cap plus steep emissions cuts after 2020 will probably roll out next year-a welcome announcement for the renewables sector.

Last month, China’s policymakers set a 70 gigawatt solar target for 2017 (China's total electricity-generating capacity is about 1,100GW). That means adding 50GW, or more than the world installed last year, in three years across rooftops and solar farms.

Offshore wind is also picking up with better incentives and funds are flowing into onshore wind, with China adding almost as much last year as the rest of the world combined.

China’s energy storage potential

This large and populous country, with a surface area of 9.6 million square kilometres and extremely varied geographical and climatic conditions, accounts for only four per cent of the world’s total storage capacity. This makes China very attractive as a market for energy storage technologies. [Engerati-Storage System Helps Chinese Manufacturer Manage its Renewables.]

Wind farms are being developed faster than the conventional power grid can manage and in some places, wind operators are even being paid to idle a fifth of their turbines due to grid instability.

Short term fluctuations of wind and solar power are causing the biggest problem as output peaks often clash with peak times on the power grid. Building additional power lines has been the standard solution but this takes a number of years. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help to avoid the loss of excess capacity.

The storage of electricity is therefore the only obvious option. Pumped hydro has been a long-standing storage solution but compressed air, flywheels and molten salts are now being considered for possible solutions.

Falling prices of advanced chemical batteries are also gaining much attention in the market. Like solar, batteries are modular, installed in days and work equally well whether distributed among consumers or concentrated in remote storage stations.

Countries realizing the importance of storage

Global electricity storage trials show that valuing storage and setting standards is not exactly straightforward. In China, for example, State Grid runs the large-scale Zhangbei demonstrator in Hebei province, while battery manufacturer BYD has batteries deployed at Changsha in Hunan province.

Elsewhere, policies are pushing commercial deployment. California's storage target of 1.3GW by 2020 has drawn over 2GW of proposals from developers. [Engerati-California’s Energy Storage Mandate-Will Others Follow?]

Japan, too, is offering utilities incentives to add storage solutions. [Engerati-Japan Introduces Energy Storage Subsidy] and [Engerati-Fuel Cells To Power Japan.] Households in Germany and Japan can tap grants for batteries at home.

China is working feverishly towards its two deadlines: the next five year plan and a global climate deal [Engerati-China-To Clean Up its Act?]. This may lead to China following California’s example. The industry predicts that the world's largest storage targets will probably be in China.

Several factors support the case for an ambitious storage target:

  1. Power lines will probably continue to struggle with increasing renewable-energy output.

  2. Storage reduces curtailment losses and leverages the value of zero-carbon electricity.

  3. Mandating storage supports the priority clean-tech sector.

Energy storage policies need to optimize the development of storage, thereby reducing carbon emission, increase resilience and support the clean-tech sector. In order for targets to be met, a great deal of structural change will need to take place. Regulators and investors will have to manage new risks as they develop new storage strategies.

Based on China’s renewable growth and its critical need for electricity storage, the world is watching China’s approach and progress since this most certainly is significant globally for policymakers and manufacturers in sustainable power generation.