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Storage is the missing piece in solving the energy trilemma, it’s time to deliver it

Arshad Saleem, from KIC InnoEnergy's smart grid and storage programme.

The energy trilemma is widely recognised as the need to achieve a low-carbon, cost-effective and secure energy source. It’s like a three piece puzzle – it should be simple to complete – but the commercial models currently in use always leave a piece missing.

Fossil fuels are cost-effective and secure, but they are not low-carbon. Renewable energy is clean and cost-effective, but intermittent. As such, the majority of the world is currently reliant on generating energy from fossil fuels to fill the troughs in renewable energy supply. But if we are to meet the COP21 targets then it is vital that fossil fuels are gradually phased out.

So, what’s the solution? If we introduce energy storage to the mix it has the power to make renewables secure, but it is traditionally very expensive. It is as if every time the puzzle looks complete, another piece mysteriously disappears.

The technology is there, but smarter business models are required to allow them to take off. Bright minds are needed to convert this game-changing niche innovation into a commercially viable, embedded technology.

KIC InnoEnergy supports many entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses to commercial reality.

Take our start-up Ferroamp, for instance. The company’s EnergyHub technology combines local energy storage and solar cells in a single unit. The technology manages the energy produced from the sun, stores the spare generation and collects and processes actionable local production and consumption data.

The EnergyHub’s built-in intelligence also automatically balances the intermittent solar generation and enables commercially viable services including frequency regulation, peak power management and voltage control to grid operators. All these offerings benefit the consumer and the grid by increasing return on investment and improving grid stability.

Furthermore, the multiple revenue streams generated allow Ferroamp to steal a competitive advantage in the energy storage space and also attract the attention of investors – turning the business into a commercial reality.

So, how do we roll these innovative business models out of a larger scale? Getting industry veterans and larger companies on board to impart their knowledge of the industry will be key.

However, it can often feel like entrepreneurs and the energy industry are opposing forces. The energy industry recognises the need to innovate, but at the same time it is under pressure to increase revenues and reduce risk. Entrepreneurs are more inclined to take risks. They are disruptive, posing difficult questions and seeking answers to solve society’s challenges.

KIC InnoEnergy’s innovation director, Elena Bou, says that encouraging the industry to innovate is like teaching an elephant to dance. It’s hard to move a body that big in an agile fashion. The same applies for large energy corporations. Regulation, legacy systems and established processes that have proven effective over years – even decades – of operation make it difficult to be fleet of foot and react quickly to changes in the energy landscape.

But by collaborating with smaller, more nimble companies larger companies can begin to support innovation. See the case study below. While the start-ups can benefit from decades of hard-earned expertise, costly equipment and financial investment. As Elena says: it’s a win-win situation.

Another way to increase the adoption of innovative business models is to continue attracting bright minds to the potential opportunities offered by the energy industry, and more specifically by energy storage. For the opportunities to become apparent the right support has to exist and the industry needs to come together to celebrate successful breakthroughs.

KIC InnoEnergy works with large energy companies across Europe to encourage their buy-in.

Our Call for Innovation Projects (CIP) is one example of this. Now in its fifth year, the CIP seeks European businesses – start-ups, SMEs or larger, who already have innovative sustainable energy projects at the research and development stage – who need help in getting their product to market. So far through the CIP, KIC InnoEnergy has invested €147 million in helping 78 new products and services become a commercial reality.

We also run an annual event called The Business Booster to support those on the KIC InnoEnergy Highway, our business accelerator programme.

It is events like these, coupled with the right support, which will enable innovators to take on the necessary commercial attitudes to drive energy storage to the next stage. Innovation for innovation’s sake is not enough during these times of looming targets. Innovation with the aim of commercialisation and completion of the energy trilemma puzzle – now that’s game changing.

Arshad Saleem works at KIC InnoEnergy on its smart grid and storage programme. 

Case study: Vattenfall and the Forsnetics/HYMES project (Hydroelectric Mechanical Energy Storage)

The project

  • The project was created following research in energy storage and develops magnetic thrust bearing (MTB) to enhance the efficiency and reliability of hydropower and pumped storage plants.
  • It is an industrial component for hydropower that uses magnetic fields to bear the weight of the generator. The technology can reduce friction losses by up to 80 per cent. It significantly increases operational reliability and efficiency, and can eliminate the use of potentially harmful oil-based lubricants, and prevents losses caused by unexpected failures.

Forsnetics

The HYMES project is made up of a consortium, led by Professor Urban Lundin, by the hydropower group at the Ångström Laboratories at the University of Uppsala.

It partnered with industry giant, Vattenfall, and the AGH University of Science and Technology.

The HYMES project then needed a commercialising partner that could capture the output of the project and turn it into a viable product.

With the support of KIC InnoEnergy’s Business Creation Services, Pérez-Loya, Lundin, and their colleague Johan Abrahamsson, the Forsnetics company was established to be the project’s commercialising partner.

Tags: solar-plus-storage, investment, business models, innovation, finance