Germany may have found the missing piece of its puzzle to deliver reliable, low-cost, low-carbon power grids: Utility Wemag has opened Europe's largest commercial battery energy storage system, bringing online its new facility with a capacity of 5MW – enough to power 2,500 households.
Lithium-ion batteries to balance supply and demand
The €6 million (US$7.75 million) installation, located next to a power substation in Germany’s Schwerin, is powered by 25,600 lithium-ion batteries which were supplied by Samsung SDI. It is designed to help Wemag balance supply and demand on the grid, avoiding damage and outages. It will also further accommodate the growing supplies of wind and solar power.
German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel says: "This is an interesting alternative to conventional power plants and the regional utilities have come up with an interesting project here.” He describes the project as "an important step to realise the German energy switch".
The utility’s grid covers an area of 8,600 sq km in northeastern Germany and operates one of the most wind-reliant grids in Germany. The utility received 80% of its energy from wind power in 2013 and it is aiming to increase this to 100% in 2014.
The country’s renewables share is currently at 25% and is expected to almost double by 2025. By 2035, the figure is predicted to reach 55-60%.
Germany subsidizes renewables to the tune of about US$16 billion per year which comes at a cost to consumers and industry. After her party’s election victory, Chancellor Angela Merkel said she and her cabinet would be reviewing the country’s subsidy program.
Energy storage systems are critical
So far, the lack of extensive storage capacity has been one of the biggest hurdles to Germany's expansion into renewable energy as power produced by wind and photovoltaic is not easily stored in sizable quantities.
Energy storage systems are widely regarded as critical to ensuring power grids have access to sufficient backup power on days when renewable energy output is low. The deployment of utility-scale energy storage systems has been described as slow due to the relatively high cost of battery technologies.
However, costs are falling fast as manufacturers scale up production activities and increase battery technologies. The idea eventually is that energy storage systems will enable 100% renewables-powered grids.