‘The battery of the future will not be limited to a single technology’


From pv magazine Spain.

pv magazine: At the end of 2019, the first battery storage system was grid connected in Spain and Ingeteam was the integrator and equipment manufacturer for the project. Why are there still so few systems of this type?

José Antonio Unanue: There is not a single cause that explains the reason for the slow deployment of storage facilities in Spain. First, there is [the question of] necessity. In strong electricity networks, with a moderate presence of renewables, storage cannot provide sufficient advantages at this time to justify its installation.

On the other hand, the economic aspect is another reason to consider. The price of batteries is in continuous decline but not as quickly as was predicted a few years ago. It must be understood that the price of batteries, and therefore the development of the stationary storage market, depends at this time on what is happening with electric cars. The li-ion [lithium-ion] technology of electric car batteries is the one that is being applied in stationary installations and today the scale of the automotive market is several times higher. Thus, it seems inevitable that the development of both markets will run together in the coming years.

However, there are some conditions where storage is an appropriate solution to deal with specific problems. The installation of Iberdrola in Caravaca de La Cruz is a clear example.

Does Ingeteam have more large scale storage projects outside Spain?

Ingeteam has been supplying large scale storage facilities for more than ten years, with more than 165 MWh installed in generation and distribution substations, most of them outside Spain. The size of the projects in which we participate is growing. We are currently carrying out the commissioning of a 20 MWh installation in India and a 12 MWh installation in England. And in recent weeks we have been awarded two other important projects, one in Ireland and one in mainland France.

We have been hearing for months that energy storage is ready to take off. What is required for it to be a mainstream choice for large scale PV projects?

Well it depends on what markets we are referring to. In some U.S. states, such as California and New York, it is usual to find storage facility projects associated with photovoltaic plants.

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The French overseas territories have been relying on storage for frequency regulation for years. The same happens now in Ireland and in the United Kingdom. If we refer to the situation in Spain, obviously development is delayed compared to these other countries. But this is a circumstance outside the state of maturity of the storage technology itself and rather linked to other concurrent economic factors or related to the current situation of our energy model.

When will storage start to be profitable in Spain? Will a regulatory framework be necessary?

As I said before, applications can now be found where storage is a cost-effective alternative to other solutions. Although today these are not the majority. Of course a regulatory framework, supportive policies and the corresponding planning will be necessary to achieve a progressive, orderly and adequate deployment to the needs marked by the transformation of the energy model in the coming years. It is an unquestionable reality that we are moving towards a 100% decarbonized model where storage will be an essential element and therefore it is necessary to start laying the foundations from this moment to achieve the commitments signed by Spain in the coming decades.

Much has also been heard of the concerns about the environmental damage associated with the supply of lithium. What is the future of lithium-based storage?

Many efforts are currently being made to develop alternative technologies to lithium so it is logical to think that the battery of the future is not yet developed, nor will it be limited to a single technology. In high-energy applications – [capable of supplying stored power for] more than 6 hours – sodium sulfide batteries are already an alternative to lithium in large scale installations. There are also other technically viable technologies, such as zinc or flow batteries, but they need development driven by an economy of scale to offer economically viable market solutions.

Paradoxically, lithium batteries are currently the most viable for stationary storage, but for reasons beyond the needs of this sector. As we said before, the massive manufacture of this type of battery – directed especially for applications of electric mobility – has allowed its use at reduced prices in other areas.

On the other hand lithium technology, although it is the most mature, is in continuous development aimed at reducing the necessary amount of scarce or problematic materials such as cobalt and increasing the percentage of recycled materials in new batteries. There are manufacturers of lithium batteries that claim that by 2030, 50% of the materials will be recycled.

Raw material sourcing

As part of pv magazine’s global UP sustainability initiative, in this quarter we are focusing on raw material sourcing in the energy storage industry. You can look forward to reading about lithium extraction in Chile, cobalt from the Congo and the development of raw material recycling. Contactup@pv-magazine.com for more information or to jump on board!

Thus, we do not believe that in the short-term lithium batteries will be replaced by other technologies in stationary storage applications. Although, as this sector grows, it will generate development opportunities for other technologies such as sodium, magnesium, zinc and others.

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