Energy Storage Lags Behind Renewables

€1 billion has been invested in 391 energy storage projects but energy storage development has a long way to go.
Published: Sun 15 Jun 2014

As Europe works towards its ambitious renewable energy targets, the storage of this fluctuating power has become a central focus point. Generators of renewable energy realise that without energy storage, the potential of renewable power can never be harnessed.

In order to find out exactly where Europe stands with regards to energy storage, a new mapping study has been put together.

The study, ‘Energy Storage Innovation in Europe’ from the European Electricity Grid Initiative (EEGI) and GRID+, maps research, development and demonstration projects on energy storage in 14 countries in Europe. The aim is to fill the knowledge gap on storage development in the region.

The involved countries include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and UK.

According to the study, almost €1 billion has been invested in 391 distinct energy storage projects in Europe over the past 5 years.

Fledgling stage

Among the findings from the study are that the field of energy storage in Europe is clearly a fledgling one. Most projects are dwelling in the research stage, with some of them reaching first pilots. Very few projects have advanced to the demonstration or pre-commercial stage.

At this year’s Energy Storage Conference, Professor Dr. Eicke R. Weber, Chairman of the Energy Storage Program Committee, President of the German Energy Storage Association (BVES) and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, stated that the energy storage market is in the same situation today as photovoltaics was ten years ago. He suggests that development in the area of storage must proceed significantly faster and explains that the storage industry must achieve in three years what photovoltaics took ten years to accomplish.

Selective funding

National governments are the main source of funding, although the European Commission’s share of about €200 million is relatively high in comparison to general Research and Development spending in the European Union. The European Commission appears to be more selective in the areas it is funding in a way that is complementary (i.e. it may be somewhat longer term work) to national funding.

In terms of technologies, the bulk of the budgets are being spent on electrochemical storage (mostly batteries). However, investors are focusing their attention on power-to-gas and thermal storage.

Further, the majority of projects cover the distribution and the end-user levels, although large and concentrated investments can also be seen in transmission and to some extent generation-based storage. This reflects the fact that large and centralized storage solutions have been mature for a longer period of time now.

For years to come we may expect many demo and pilot projects on distributed/local electrochemical, chemical and thermal storage as the current generation of research mature, says the report.

The global market share of renewable energy is expected to reach 36% by 2030. Since energy storage harnesses the full potential of renewable energy, it makes sense that it develops at the same rate-if not faster since it has a supportive role. Economic viability, government support, appropriate legal framework and bankability stand in the way of development but according to Dr. Ilja Pawel from Cellstrom GmbH/Gildemeister energy solutions, “Energy storage still has a long way to go until it is used worldwide in an economically viable manner, but we are moving in the right direction.”

Further reading

The European Electricity Grid Initiative (EEGI)-Energy Storage Innovation in Europe-a mapping exercise [pdf]