ANALYSIS-Russia’s gas crisis highlights the problem of green energy storage in Europe


* War in Ukraine prompts move away from Russian gas * Green energy companies devise solutions to increase storage

* But funding and political will to invest in scarce supply By Umberto Bacchi

June 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – From dropping weights down old mine shafts to pumping compressed air into caves, companies are racing to develop inventive new solutions for storing renewable energy as European nations try to move away from Russian fossil fuels. Expanding storage is key to ensuring a constant supply of electricity as countries shift to using cleaner energy from wind turbines and solar panels, which do not provide a 24-hour supply, according to the analysts.

But the solutions most widely used today – such as storing energy in hydroelectric reservoirs or in lithium batteries – have drawbacks ranging from environmental impact to a limited lifespan, which leads to a growing search for alternatives. These could become increasingly important as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine raises concerns across Europe over gas supplies and rising prices, prompting calls and plans for a faster transition to green energy.

The European Commission in May unveiled a €210 billion plan for Europe to end its dependence on Russian fossil fuels. He also proposed a legally binding target of getting 45% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2030, up from the current target of 40%. But as governments around the world rush to build more renewable energy plants in a bid to meet global climate goals, green energy storage capacity has lagged, industry experts say. .

The European Union needs to more than triple its storage capacity by 2030 to adequately support its green transition, said Patrick Clerens, who heads the European Association for Energy Storage (EASE), an industry group. That means installing about 14 gigawatts (GW) of storage per year for the next eight years, up from about 1 GW of additional capacity being put in place in 2021, he said.

“It’s a huge effort,” Clerens said in a phone interview. “We will need whatever storage technology is available.” Rapidly adding storage is key to meeting the Paris Agreement’s goal of reducing carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. The International Energy Agency estimated last year that the total capacity of energy storage is expected to increase 35 times over this decade.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought even more urgency, Clerens added. European countries currently burn gas to help boost the electricity grid when generation from renewables is low. But it is becoming increasingly costly, with the conflict driving up prices and Russia, which typically supplies around 40% of the EU’s gas, is responding to sanctions by limiting supplies.

Investing in renewables with storage could help reduce these risks – but most governments have instead turned to more fossil fuels to replace Russian gas supplies, according to analysis published this week by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT ). WEIGHT AND WATER

Over 90% of the world’s electricity storage capacity is provided by “pumped hydroelectricity”, a system in which excess electricity is used to pump water upstream so that it can then flow through the turbines of a hydroelectric dam when additional power is needed. Although well established, such systems cannot work in many places, said Billy Wu, a senior lecturer at Imperial College London who studies energy storage.

“You can’t really put a hydroelectric dam everywhere. It’s geographically confined and there’s a huge amount of capital needed,” Wu told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone. Other efforts to increase renewable energy storage capacity have largely focused on lithium-ion batteries.

The cost of these batteries has plunged over the past three decades, according to a 2021 study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, making it increasingly viable solution. But critics object that they have a short lifespan – up to 10 years – and exploit necessary raw materials such as lithium lithium-gb.pdf and cobalt is often harmful to the environment.

This has led to a growing search for other alternatives. Some energy storage companies, for example, pump compressed air into underground caverns or other containers, using surplus renewable energy. When power is needed, it is then released to run the turbines.

Other systems, such as pumped hydro, take advantage of gravity. A process developed by British company Gravitricity stores energy by using reserve electricity to winch weights down abandoned mine shafts. When the weights are then slowly released, they drive turbines to generate power.

Energy Vault in Switzerland uses a similar system with weights lifted above ground, while Gravity Power in the US and Gravity Storage GmbH in Germany aim to use excess energy to run water pumps to lift weights. in underground silos. Another approach to storage – “power-to-gas” – involves converting renewable electricity into combustible gases, usually hydrogen, which can then be burned to produce electricity.

One company, Electrochaea, produces “synthetic” methane from microorganisms and hydrogen made from renewable energy. “You can take energy from a windmill… (and) convert it into synthetic methane chemical bonds that you can have on call when you need them,” said Mich Hein, CEO of the German company.

LACK OF FUNDING Proponents say some of these solutions have an advantage over pumped hydro and battery storage because they can be installed in a wide range of locations and many could last for decades with simple maintenance.

Funding, however, is a problem. While most of these energy storage companies have created or are developing proof-of-concept pilots, nearly all have yet to build their first large plant. Securing investors is often cited as the main obstacle.

“(The problem) isn’t the economics of our technology, it’s building the first project,” said Gravitricity chief executive Charlie Blair. “We face the same challenge for almost all renewable technologies in the world, which are relatively expensive at the start,” he said.

As a result, “investors are kind of nervous, which is understandable.” Uneven and outdated regulatory frameworks are also an issue, with innovative storage companies lamenting that many countries still see building storage as a job for the government and large power utilities, even though there is now an ecosystem. start-ups ready to do so.

“The regulations in most energy markets are not properly defined for storage,” said Sven Bode, managing director of Gravity Storage GmbH. Storage companies can normally make a profit by buying power when it’s cheap and selling when it’s expensive – but the strategy is tricky in some places.

In Germany, for example, storage facilities are treated as end-use energy consumers, which means that they pay fees and taxes on the energy they buy, even if they resell it more late, according to Bode. Incentives are also lacking for long-term seasonal electricity storage – such as storing abundant solar energy harvested in the summer for use in the winter, when energy demand is higher.

This means that companies working on new storage ideas see little current benefit in developing systems that would conserve energy for so long. Some governments have gone ahead. The state of California, for example, required utilities to install storage capacity, which helped spur the development of the sector.

In Europe, countries like Spain and Greece https ://www,electricity%20generation%20proportion%20of %2070%25 have set energy storage capacity targets, and EASE is pushing for the EU to set its own target, which Clerens says could reassure investors by putting political will behind storage projects . Funding more research into solutions and implementing pricing mechanisms that reward energy storage would also help the industry, he said.

“It makes no sense to deploy more renewables if we throw away the energy they produce when we have too much and replace it with imported gas when we need it,” Clerens said. “We need an appropriate energy storage strategy.”

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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