Enel X, the new branch of Enel Group focusing on innovative energy services, is testing an aggregation platform for domestic solar and battery systems in Lombardy, North Italy.
The virtual power plant project has been under development for three years starting first in laboratory tests, and will soon be ready to announce the first deployment on site, says Luigi Lanuzza, head of new technologies at the Innovation and Product Lab.
Flexibility from hundreds of batteries will be offered into the market, through UVAM, a mechanism designed to aggregate demand-side response and flexible generation to provide ancillary services to the TSO Terna and help balance the grid. From 2019 Enel X participates in the market through UVAM with demand-side response from commercial and industrial (C&I) customers, and this represents a further step in aggregating distributed flexibility.
There are as many as 20,000 domestic batteries in Italy due to some generous tax rebate schemes, and many customers in Lombardy have already signed up, Lanuzza says. Some of them will participate to an experimental program led by energy technology research firm RSE, and Enel X was one of two companies chosen for the project, alongside a smaller company.
The residential batteries are mainly Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) and Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NMC), designed by companies such as Sonnen, Tesla and LG.
But Enel X has also developed its own battery using LFP as cathode material. “We took the best of the best,” says Lanuzza. Enel X batteries have a hybrid inverter able to manage PV, are around 2.2kWh to 10kWh but modular and can be scaled up, and as well as being safer than NMC batteries they have a much lower price, Lanuzza says.
LFP batteries provide good electrochemical performance with low resistance, resulting in a high current rating and long cycle life with good thermal stability compared to other chemistries. The batteries are robust with regard to thermal runaway, which mainly with other batteries could occur when an increase in temperature leads to a further increase in temperature, creating uncontrolled positive feedback.
Batteries will be crucial for the future development of distributed renewables generation and for electrification of energy consumption, especially for electric mobility. Enel is part of the European Battery Alliance, which aims to bring innovative products to market faster than would otherwise happen, in order to remain competitive with countries like China and South Korea. Enel X will be also chair of the workgroup of stationary storage inside the new European Technology and Innovation Platform on batteries, named Batteries Europe.
Looking to future developments for batteries, it is likely there will be a lot of interest in projects including research on digital twins for batteries using predictive software.
Concerning cells technology, a new generation of lithium-ion batteries with higher content of silicon (Generation 3B), with much higher energy density than current lithium-ion batteries will be introduced into the market. Then, with Generation 4, all-solid-state with Li metal anode, will follow. In both cases, the aim of the current development of the growing European industry is to introduce such technologies some years in advance compared to the expected roadmap, in order to enter into the market with innovative products.
“There is also a lot of attention on circularity,” Lanuzza says. For example a second life battery from electric vehicles is being tested at a thermal power plant in Melilla, a Spanish city on the North coast of Africa.
Another interesting avenue of research is exploring predictive algorithms for degradation and failure.
“We need to understand the performance of batteries and machine learning can help with this. Digital twins have proved to be very accurate,” Lanuzza says.
While most processes are moving to the cloud, some hardware is required on site in case a connection is missed, and there needs to be a back-up in order to be able to relay accurate information to the TSO, he added. “The next frontier is edge computing and fog computing to allow for faster services, as we have a lot of challenges to overcome.” Working with large C&I customers is one thing, but managing a portfolio of thousands of customers is a much more intensive administrative task.
Financial incentives currently available should be higher in order to change customer behaviour by themselves, says Lanuzza. “The incentives appear too low when you look at the economics and demand response payments are not sufficient.” Also, storage services are potentially a powerful resource for the grid, but would need to stack revenue to be more profitable, and being used for fast applications, which only batteries can provide.
Italian regulator ARERA has issued a public consultation on the overall reform of the electricity dispatch where it proposed some technical solutions to better integrate with Europe and to manage more renewables, distributed generation and electric vehicles. From next year there will be an intraday continuous market with gate closure one hour before real-time, down from four hours. The next step is to integrate with Europe’s cross border intraday markets via projects including IGCC, TERRE, MARI and PICASSO. Moreover, a specific consultation to exempt storage from the payment of transportation and dispatching fees is ongoing.