In recent years, interest in buffering energy has surged and it has started appearing in more and more vision documents, energy policy papers and energy roadmaps all over Europe. At the same time people started realizing that there was little to no knowledge on the current state of development of this field. There are projects supported by the European Commission, but many efforts by the Member States did not show up on the radar screen. Furthermore, there was only limited organisation of the energy storage industry stakeholders, so there was no systematic source of information from that side either.
Back in September 2012, the SET-Plan European Electricity Grid Initiative (EEGI) recognised both the significance of storage and the lack of systematic understanding of the field. In 2011 it had already mapped demonstration projects for electricity distribution grids. It was therefore a logical development to start building a comprehensive overview of innovation activities in energy storage.
As a SET-Plan Industrial Initiative, the EEGI had access to the best expertise in industry, R&D and government. With major support from the Member States, an expert group was created consisting of people with strong insight into the development of storage innovation in their respective countries. This group collected a massive amount of data on ongoing storage research, development and deployment projects throughout Europe, which formed the basis for the work.
Europe is betting heavily on storage
A total of fourteen countries were covered, together with activities co-funded by the European Commission (e.g. through FP7). It turned out that - over the past five years - almost EUR 1 billion had been invested in this field spread over 391 distinct projects. This was significantly more than expected.
The mapping provides an overview by looking into the technological orientation of each project and by mapping at which level it is related to the electricity grid (from generation of transmission to distribution and end users). This approach will help inform further decisions on the role of storage in grid development and the interactions between both.
Globally speaking, national funding amounts to close to EUR 800 million; the EC's share is around 200 million and is thus very sizeable in comparison to the average share of European funding in R&D. The bulk of the budgets is spent on electrochemical storage (mostly batteries), power-to-gas and thermal storage.
The field of energy storage is clearly a fledgling one, with the exception of some of the technologies used in pumped hydropower. Most efforts in the field are therefore still at the research stage, with some of them reaching first pilots. Very few projects have advanced to the demonstration or pre-commercial stage. Those that have done so are considerably larger than the rest of the sample. It is worth exploring the link that seems to be present between financing schemes based on grid tariffs and the number of more advanced and large projects.
In terms of focus, most projects tend to be found at distribution level or with end users. As few very large developments/demonstrators are going on at the transmission and the generation level, the distribution is somewhat less skewed when considering the total amounts of investment involved.
A diverse picture
Beneath the global analysis a wealth of insights on individual countries is presented. Overall there seems to be some tendency to regional specialization throughout Europe. Southern Europe is strongly focused on batteries. Countries like Italy are bringing large facilities online throughout the grid, but the tendency is also very clear in Spain and Portugal.
Mechanical storage, which is an umbrella for compressed air on the one hand and pumped hydro on the other, is concentrated in a few countries. As it could be expected, mountainous countries like Austria and – especially – Norway have strong contributions. We also see a relatively high contribution from Denmark with e.g. compressed air and unconventional pumped hydro storage. Power-to-gas and chemical storage, finally, are resurging. The most outspoken activity on this topic is found in Western Europe with Germany in the lead.
At the same time, the difference in pace between Western and Eastern Europe is remarkable. This may be something to pay attention to in the future. The risk is that there will be a Europe with two speeds on energy storage development.
The road forward
The mapping that the EEGI undertook was a pioneering piece of work. It can be a very valuable basis for strategic and policy work in the area of storage. The study provides a factual basis to build upon and offers a better understanding of the strengths and shortcomings of the storage landscape as it is today.
At the same time any mapping is - necessarily – a snapshot that is frozen in time. It needs to be updated from time to time to maintain its value and capture the most recent trends and developments. We also realise that a pioneering piece of work cannot possibly be complete. An update in this case would also mean improving the data set and expanding it to other countries. We managed to include 14 Member States this time; there are 14 more of them in the EU.
So let us look forward to autumn 2014, when the first update is planned. The field of storage will likely be more mature – and definitely a whole lot larger.