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Intersolar Europe: Big questions on energy storage answered on the show floor

There is a greatly expanded amount of energy storage on offer at the European edition of the Intersolar trade exhibition and conferences this year, including the Electrical Energy Storage (EES) Europe show hosting its own conference for the first time. Andy Colthorpe took the opportunity to canvas opinions on the big trends and topics from a number of industry figures.

Where are some of the regional markets that interest you most?

Wolfram Walter, head of German storage maker ASD Sonnenspeicher: We see the UK market coming up very fast. We have a lot of people here [at Intersolar Europe] who want to get partners for the UK for us. We have also the Japanese market with big storage systems, also the US market is strongly growing with big storage systems, especially in California. Italy, in two months we will have all the certifications we need to bring systems to that market. 

Del Allison, vice president of sales at US-based flow battery maker Vizn Energy: Every geographical region has it's own challenges. The US, with one of the most stable grids, has different regulatory issues and requirements. I was on a couple of conference calls with South Africa and unfortunately both of those calls were interrupted by major power failures. Then you look at other, maybe more challenging applications were you have islanding applications, whether truly on an island or in a remote area. You have a high cost of fuel, high transportation costs for fuel, a high cost for running large generators, diesel generators, typically. As well as cutting your carbon footprint, you could cut costs by 75% or more in a greenfield application so that becomes important. Different parts of the world have different needs. Maybe not every part of the world is at that stage but I think there's greater demand than the market can serve right now.

What are some steps that storage system providers can take now to convince and reassure banks, investors and the mainstream business community in general on how effective and safe electricity storage technology is?

Roger Lin, director of product marketing at large-scale storage system provider NEC Energy Solutions: There's a lot of standardisation work going on for safety certification, safety testing standards, or at least recommended guidleines to say how a system should be designed to prevent anything bad happening to it. So we fully are on board with that. There are examples where these very, very mature energy storage chemistries like lead acid can cause fires, that's a fairly well known fact. It's just that Li-ion which is newer and more energy dense, there's a lot more focus in the media on these sorts of things. There's a lot of exposure people get to the fact the lithium-in can be unsafe if not treated properly. The batteries that we use for our electronic devices don't have the same safety built in as larger devices. A lot of the test data is already collected and tests run, it's just a matter of codifying it into a recommended guideline, or a recommended best practise or standard everyone can agree on. I think that's where we're at now.

Del Allison, Vizn Energy: I think you're seeing a lot of regulatory changes where storage could be mandated and it will in essence require storage to satisfy the regulations.

Is there a growing understanding that while solar and storage are an excellent and natural complement for one another, storage isn't something that solar alone can benefit from?

Boris von Bormann, CEO for North American region at Germany-headquartered residential and commercial storage maker Sonnenbatterie: Three years or even two years ago people would say, "I want a solar system, and maybe take a look at a storage system". Now people come and say: "I want a storage system and maybe I'll take a look at solar as well". It's a complete shift in the perception and application of the market and we see that as well. This commercial system [which Sonnenbatterie is launching into the US peak shaving and arbitrage markets] is going to probably be 90% without solar, and then there's wind and micro-CHPs. That's why our systems will always have the option to be AC coupled, because we believe in the retrofit market, that market to combine with any energy source, I think it's a huge aspect. There are so many exciting technologies that will come up over the next few years. We have a partnership with a heating equipment supplier to see how we can work together, for example.

Will aggregation, connecting together a number of smaller energy storage devices to create in effect, a large-scale system, be a big opportunity for residential storage system makers?

Wolfram Walter, ASD Sonnenspeicher: In my opinion, it makes more sense to have big storage systems regulated by the grid operators than having thousands of little systems in private households and somebody is taking your power out of your system, you have to pay for that. I think a lot of rules are missing in the moment to be clear how that market will run and at the moment, it's not for us. 

Intersolar Europe runs until Friday. Image: Solar Promotion Gmbh.

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