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Interview

Energy Crisis Accelerates Interest in Battery Storage

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Energy storage is gaining a surge of interest in Europe as the continent grapples with a worsening energy crisis. Traditionally, natural gas has provided security for energy systems by generating electricity and balancing grids, but that role is being increasingly challenged by stationary power storage. With a crisis in Europe on both the economic front and the “capacity side” with impacts from the war in Ukraine, “we've just seen this acceleration of interest of uptake," Paul McCusker, a senior vice president at energy storage specialist Fluence, tells Energy Intelligence. Policymakers have been a key part of this, with "crisis-driven engagements at a country level and at an energy minister level," he adds. Fluence is an AES-Siemens joint venture and McCusker heads the company's Europe, Middle East and Africa divisions.

Fluence expects this acceleration will continue, “largely driven by the fact that energy storage is a relatively fast technology to deploy,” McCusker said in an interview. “There's a growing recognition of that” and also of the “material role” battery storage can play in providing flexibility as a “key component” of the energy transition, he adds. Some forecasts suggest the stationary power storage market in Europe could reach as much as 200 gigawatts by 2030.

Policy Shortfalls

While policymakers are starting “to get” the importance of storage, McCusker argues that they need to do more to help nurture the industry. He’s not alone, with Fluence co-authoring an open letter to EU policymakers in July, alongside a “whole host” of industry participants, calling for better support. While “very supportive" of the RepowerEU plan, the letter calls out “the need” for better policy frameworks and targets for energy storage. Pointing to “great momentum in the market with private investors very keen to deploy capital,” the Fluence executive argues steps need to be taken to take advantage of that momentum and support it even further. Actions need to be taken “on the policy side to provide more certainty for investors and, really move faster at this critical moment," he says.

Supply Chain Problems

The policy framework is not the only challenge. “As we've come out of the Covid period, we've seen these capacity shocks and supply chain issues, and also logistical issues impacting lots of industries,” McCusker says. Battery-based energy storage, specifically, has a “major supply chain vulnerability as an overall industry,” with a supply chain that has been “very much anchored in the East, in Asia,” he recognizes. “First we've seen the impact of that longer supply chain in terms of logistics, disruption, ports, congestion — so initially delays and then the economic cost of that tight logistics market,” McCusker says.

The other factor, as the industry scales up, is “having all of your supply chain centered in one geography. There's a supply chain concentration risk there, which we're certainly more alert to.” Policymakers in Europe and in the US also seem to be understanding that more clearly now too, recognizing that “we need to establish supply chains closer to our markets,” he argues.

This is something that Fluence has been working on for a few years and has in fact accelerated, McCusker notes. Notably, the company plans to start manufacturing in the US in the next 12 months. Europe will follow shortly afterward, where Fluence has been working with Swedish battery developer Northvolt to develop the first European production “of any material scale” for stationary storage. “So in the next few years, we need to look at how you stay focused on that, and really get the new supply chain established, and much more local content into production,” he says.

New Technologies

While Fluence sees lithium-ion batteries having a considerable role to play for the immediate and medium term, it expects that as battery technology evolves, there will be a migration over time to longer-duration systems. This includes new battery chemistries as well as new technologies, like green hydrogen, which is ”very much in the headlines here in Europe,” McCusker says. As green hydrogen develops, Fluence also sees growing interest — and a technical and commercial need — for battery-based systems to work with hydrogen systems, which the company is exploring. "Interestingly, I think this crisis period will stimulate more innovation, and creative ways to combine technologies, like the battery-hydrogen example," he says.

Topics:
Energy Storage, Renewable Electricity , Low-Carbon Policy, Emerging Technologies
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