From molecules to electrons

In the year 1800, a gentleman named Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anas Volta realized that when he stacked two different metal plates together with brine-soaked leather placed in between each plate, a chemical reaction would occur pushing electrons from one side of the stack to the other, thus creating a steady electric current. This was the first battery.

A lot has changed since then. What was back then an endeavor driven by curiosity is now going to play a vital role in the future of human society. On the verge of planetary climate catastrophe, we must find ways to accommodate the increasing amount of renewables that will be needed in order to make the transition to a carbon-neutral energy grid. Batteries will be at the heart of this transition.

«Batteries are at the heart of the industrial revolution» – Maroš Šefčovic, Vice-President for Energy Union

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), analysing the effects of the energy transition until 2050, found that over 80% of the world’s electricity could be derived from renewable sources by that date. As variable renewables grow, the grid will require greater flexibility. It is expected that solar photovoltaic (PV) and wind power will account for 52% of total energy generation, so electricity will need to be stored not only by hours, but days and weeks. From a current capacity of 100GW, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has projected that the necessary amount of Electrical Energy Storage (EES) in the world in 2050 will double or triple to between 189GW or 305GW.

However, how we get there is the real question. Rapid growth in the energy storage sector is being driven by a variety of factors such as falling costs, market regulatory development, and government support. The cost of Lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, for example, has dropped from $10,000 per kWh in the early 90s to a projected $100 per kWh in 2025according to a benchmark study from BloombergNEF. The continuing drop in prices combined with improved performance will likely open new markets.

According to a study performed by the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), Battery Energy Systems (BES) have the unique potential to provide thirteen fundamental electricity services, at all levels of the grid – generation, transmission, distribution or directly to the end-user. (see figure below).

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Figure 1. The Economics of Behind-the-meter energy storage [13 different services batteries can provide to the grid] – RMI (2017)

Behind-the-meter (BTM) storage, notably when paired with new PV installations, could make this application the largest driver of battery storage growth, becoming the primary-use case for 64% of total BES energy capacity in stationary applications in 2030 according to IRENA. However, the economics of BTM storage will only add up when multiple ‘stacked’ services are provided by the same device or fleet of devices, creating what is being called in the industry a “Virtual Power Plant”.

Because of the very different dynamics and characteristics of performance and timings of those services, the market evolution is driven by a wide range of different storage technologies. Some services will require high power for short durations (eg. frequency regulation), while others require power for longer periods (eg. capacity firming). These differences imply distinct charge/discharge cycles. In some cases, uniform cycles will be the standard (eg. energy arbitration, time-shifting), while in other variable patterns could be the norm (eg. voltage support). Therefore, it is likely that a diverse group of storage technologies will prosper. EUROBAT, the Association of European Automotive and Industrial Battery Manufacturers, expects that all main battery technologies (Lead, Lithium, Nickel, and Sodium) will find different market segments where they can compete on performance and cost, depending on the requirements.

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Figure 2 – Comparison of rated power, energy content and discharge time of different Energy Storage Technologies. Source: IEC 2012

The Roadmap

Knowing that batteries will have a central role to play in Europe’s energy transition, the European Battery Alliance (EBA), launched by the European Commission in 2017, aims to establish a competitive battery industry, developing a large-scale and long-term research program on batteries (The Strategic Action Plan on Batteries, 2018). Along those lines, the BATTERY 2030+ initiative proposes a 10-year large-scale program that will complement the short-term industrial initiatives launched in the framework of the European Battery Alliance.

Taken all together, the battery industry will be developing across the full value chain. At Stor Energy, we have identified the current state of the technology and within the Open Innovation ecosystem foster by the Energy Web Foundation (EWF), Stor will be developing the necessary infrastructure to allow energy storage to plays its role in the future Transactive Grid.