France storage project highlights cost journey facing batteries in Europe

The results of a pilot solar+storage project in southern France have demonstrated to one of Europe’s largest power network operators that the economic viability of battery storage in the continent is currently not optimal.

France’s EDF – as part of the European Union’s "Grid4EU" energy testing program – has published data from its €30 million ($33.2 million) Nice Grid scheme revealing that although the technology involved (compact batteries connected to rooftop solar and utility-scale batteries connected to the ERDF local power distribution network) works flawlessly, wider rollout is still too expensive.

Speaking with Reuters, ERDF chief executive Philippe Monloubou said: "The economic model of the batteries is not mature yet."

According to Saft – the French storage company that supplied its lithium-ion batteries to the 2.5 MW rooftop system near Nice – and ERDF, battery storage from the Nice Grid project costs between €500 ($553) and €1,000 ($1,107) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

A further 30% in costs would be required for inverters and installation, pushing the technology beyond economic competitiveness in most European markets bar certain parts of Denmark and Germany, where retail power rates are around €0.30/kWh.

In France, said Saft’s head of new energy storage unit Michael Lippert, residential power rates are €0.17/kWh. "Economical feasibility is usually not a given in most of mainland Europe’s grids," he added. The European average is around €0.21/kWh.

At the utility-scale, ERDF has used two 100 kWh batteries and connected then to the solar PV produced by a few handfuls of residences, with two 600 kWh batteries connected to a low voltage grid, with a further 600 kWh battery connected to a high voltage grid. This pilot scheme cost a total of €2 million, but the current high cost of the batteries means that ERDF will not roll out such a project more widely until prices have fallen further.

An ERDF official did tell Reuters, however, that the power provider will evaluate the viability of wider storage at the end of the Nice Grid project.

The EU-backed Grid4EU scheme is running a variety of pilot projects across the continent, involving Germany’s RWE, Spain’s Iberdrola, Italy’s Enel, Sweden’s Vattenfall and the Czech Republic’s CEZ each testing out ways to improve current power grids. Iberdrola in Spain is testing the integration of electric vehicles into the grid, while CEZ Distribuce in the Czech Republic is testing Combined Heat and Power (CHP).