Ireland emerges as Europe’s storage lab

Energy storage development in Ireland remains purposely technology-agnostic and this, together with the strong drivers behind storage in the country, is transforming the country into Europe’s energy storage lab, as highlighted a recent workshop.

The event held in London was the ninth of a series of regional Grid and Storage workshops that took place in various locations throughout the European Union (EU) aimed at fostering the storage discourse and defining the EU’s Research and Innovation roadmap, integrating energy storage into grid activities.

Naturally, the workshop addressed the U.K. and Ireland, whereas the previous eight workshops (Lille, Riga, Helsinki, Athens, Madrid, Vienna, Rome and Munich) concerned their respective regions accordingly.

Energy storage projects

Alan Kennedy, of the EirGrid – the Republic of Ireland’s state-owned transmission system operator – presented the workshop, which showcased Ireland’s flagship storage projects. Of these, Kennedy said, there are some recent projects that aim predominantly to provide energy system services. Such projects include:

· A 10 MW battery array built in Northern Ireland that was inaugurated in January 2016. AES corporation, which is building and owns the project, plans to extend the system up to 100 MW and upon its completion it will be Europe’s largest battery storage.

· A storage system comprising two 160 kW flywheel components and one 160 kW battery component, commissioned in December 2015. This is only a small-scale demonstration project built in Rhode, County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland, and when fully built by 2017 is expected to reach a capacity of 20 MWh. The project is being led by Irish company Schwungrad Energie and the University of Limerick.

· A 2 MVA synchronous condenser, normally synchronized to the grid. The system is cited alongside the Spadden wind farm in County Donegal, Republic of Ireland. The idea behind this technology trial project is that the 2 MVA system is normally synchronized to the grid, but when a low frequency incident occurs then it is desynchronized from the grid and its rotor decelerates to extract additional energy, which is injected to the grid via a DC link.

· Mitsubishi has also built a battery pilot scheme in conjunction with Eirgrid, to be cited alongside another wind farm in the Republic of Ireland.

· Another project that Kennedy did not refer to is a 300 KW system combining lithium-ion batteries with ultracapacitors for the Tallaght Smart Grid

Testbed in South Dublin County. The facility was developed by FREQCON, a German manufacturer of various electric equipment that harnesses renewable energy.

All previous projects serve to test the new storage technologies, said Kennedy, who also said that the Republic of Ireland had added its first 290 MW pumped hydro storage plant in the 1970s.

Finally, Gaelectric, an independent developer and operator of wind, bionenergy and solar projects in Ireland and the U.K., submitted in December 2015 a planning application for a compressed air energy storage (CAES) project near Larne in Northern Ireland. “This facility will generate up to 330 MW of power for periods of up to six hours. It will create demand of up to 200 MW during its compression cycle,” said Gaelectric.

The energy storage proposition

Among the main drivers for storage in Europe, said Kennedy, are the increasing number of decentralized, variable generation units and the new power flows all over Europe.

In Ireland specifically, given both the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland have committed to sourcing 40% of their final consumption of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, energy storage emerges as a solution to avoid curtailment of the renewable power generation when this exceeds the island’s electricity demand.

The demonstration projects listed before can provide answers to the problem. To do so fully, the right policy framework needs to come into place, providing developers with a route to market and investors with confidence to finance the storage projects. Capacity markets, ancillary services and other aspects of the electricity market design can all play a significant role.

pv magazine has reported before on the increasing role of the Irish market for ancillary services. In 2016, this is expected to reach a total value of €235million ($257 million) or about 15% of the Irish power generation market value, while in most other European markets ancillary services make only around 5-6% of the total power generation market value. The Irish government too has often expressed that its preferred route to market for energy storage projects is via the ancillary markets.

However, energy storage, unlike energy generation and transmission, is not a unique proposition, Mark O’Malley, professor of electrical engineering at the University College Dublin, told the workshop in London. Thus, storage has lots of competitors, O’Malley added.

O’Malley’s comments referred to alternative scenarios to tackling the intermittent nature of renewable energy in Ireland via building more interconnection with Great Britain. Currently, Ireland is linked to the British network via only two 500 MW lines, but plans for more capacity interconnection are being considered.

Critics say that although new interconnectors are required, the majority of Irish renewable power generation comes from wind and, due to the close proximity of Island with Great Britain, when excessive wind power is generated in Ireland, this will also be the case in Britain.

Increasingly, the Irish government will need to adopt a holistic approach to energy policy considering all the previous parameters, and decide what it wants to do with the learning outcome of the storage demonstration projects. Despite the alternatives, energy storage will most likely drive the energy market in Ireland soon.