“At Enel Green Power, renewable plants integrated with lithium batteries are a solution that’s now part of our commercial offering.”
EGP is one of the global leader in energy storage systems. This position of leadership was achieved with intense innovation, always aiming to improve our technological knowledge and skills and to guarantee maximum efficiency for our customers.
Today’s Storage: Lithium Batteries
Storage systems are currently based on lithium ion batteries, a group of solutions that combine various technologies, like nickel, manganese and cobalt (NMC) and lithium iron phosphate.
The first one, especially, has experienced a revolution in recent years, boosted by the spread of electric mobility.
Increased global demand for e-cars led the main producers to increase their battery production, which in some huge Asian gigafactories has reached 1 GWh per year. Greater production naturally affects prices, which dropped, according to Bloomberg data, more than 70% from 2010 to 2016.
The rapid drop in costs led to a virtuous cycle that in turn encouraged, together with changing regulations in many markets, the spread of batteries as an effective tool for responding to grid regulation needs, replacing traditional gas turbines.
Despite their growth, however, lithium batteries have a few intrinsic problems. The NMC ones, especially, are limited by the difficulty of retrieving cobalt, which is extracted in politically unstable areas of the world, where the exploitation of child labour is tragically the norm.
For this reason, builders and operators are trying to decrease the cobalt content in their batteries with new solutions, while still maintaining the same performance in terms of storage capacity.
Furthermore, work is also being done to guarantee the perfect functioning of batteries with preventive diagnostics, reducing maintenance costs and times.
EGP’s Sustainable Batteries
For Enel Green Power, there is no innovation without sustainability. This is why we are working on processes for the disposal of batteries at the end of their life cycle, a problem that, left unresolved, could compromise efforts for a more sustainable world.
According to data from the Global Battery Alliance, 11 million tonnes of lithium ion batteries will expire by 2030 and, to date, there are very few systems that allow them to be reused.
To avoid the risks pointed out by the Global Battery Alliance, EGP is studying the possibility of using “used” batteries from electric vehicles to regulate the grid, creating a virtuous cycle of a circular economy.
The possibility of using “second-hand batteries” will lower costs even further, while reducing our environmental impact.
“We’ve accepted the challenge posed by the Global Battery Alliance, a platform for global collaboration, to pursue a socially responsible, environmentally sustainable and technologically innovative use of batteries.”
Beyond Lithium Batteries
In addition to sustainability today, EGP must also look to tomorrow and understand what storage technologies the future will offer.
Flow batteries, for example, which are now just a step away from large-scale commercialization, could be a valid alternative to their lithium “cousins” in the coming years.
Because of their specific technology, stored energy and dispensed power are not intrinsically linked in flow batteries, a characteristic that makes them particularly suited for storage systems connected to renewables, where energy must be stored for a very long time.
Moreover, flow batteries are built with raw materials with no particular availability issues and a limited environmental impact, all the better for sustainability.
On the other hand, they are still costly, especially for industrial-sized applications, and they’ll have to offset their lower yield compared to lithium batteries.
The Batteries of the Future
Looking further ahead, there are some very promising systems, known as Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES) and Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES).
These are technologies that are similar in some ways, both using unique characteristics of the air to conserve energy.
While CAES is limited by its need for natural reservoirs, such as underground cavities, LAES technology is very interesting for its ability to store large quantities of energy, and the bigger the plant, the lower the cost.
This is a characteristic that could facilitate the transition to a 100% green world in the future, though it should be stressed that we are still in the experimental phase of the technology, with just one industrial-scale prototype built.
Finally, there is hope in energy storage in the form of hydrogen, a solution that will potentially make it possible to connect the electricity sector to transport and to chemistry, though with lower efficiency than electrochemical storage systems.
By storing all the energy available at times of high production from renewable sources and low energy demand, in fact, it is possible to add value in other industrial sectors, to the advantage of energy efficiency and sustainability.
Science fiction? Maybe right now, but, while these technologies are still taking their first steps, it’s now clear to EGP and the renewable energy sector that storage systems are now an established reality.