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Alfen follows Czech milestone with Belgium’s first grid-stabilising battery system

Alfen-branded containerised lithium-ion battery energy storage system. Image: Alfen.

Following an announcement earlier this month that Alfen will build the Czech Republic’s first large-scale battery energy storage system (BESS), the Dutch grid-scale system integrator has just completed a megawatt-scale project in Belgium.

With Belgium’s high voltage grid operator Elia permitting the use of batteries to stabilise the grid since May, Alfen has now delivered a 1MW project in Drogenbos, Brussels, dubbed simply, “TheBattery”.

While the market for grid-balancing with batteries has in theory been open for four months, Alfen’s Drogenbos project is the first system to enter it successfully. Growing penetration of renewable energy and an increase in the uptake of electric vehicles is driving Elia’s need for energy storage on its networks, with balancing the grid increasingly becoming a “challenge”, Alfen said.

The system is being installed at an Energy Storage Park operated by multinational utility Engie, which in July said the park could trial the use of energy storage to store and release 20MWh of renewable energy.

The Drogenbos site is currently also a gas-fired power station and Engie has said that although its use of existing grid connection infrastructure saves money, time and effort, an equally significant part of the reason for selecting the facility as a test site was that workers in a conventional, thermal and fossil fuel-powered generation sector could have an opportunity to train in this new technology.

Engie is expected to test around 6MW of lithium battery systems from four different manufacturers in the first phase of demonstrations and trials at the park, but company representatives have also said that the utility will test non-lithium batteries such as flow batteries, as well as non-battery solutions such as mechanical energy storage using flywheels. Engie expects more of the park to be up and running next month.

"We want to know how best to provide grid support services. We’ll then test different types of batteries to find out which are best suited to this kind of application,” the Drogenbos park’s chief operating officer for Engie, Christophe Billiouw, said at the time the park’s creation was announced this summer.

“We’ll also look at how we can ensure security of supply for our industrial customers. Furthermore, the experience we gain will help us support our customers in making the transition to sustainable energy consumption.”

Cross-border grid-balancing opportunity in Europe

Alfen’s 1MW battery will provide Frequency Containment Reserve (FCR) to the local grid. Grid operator Elia describes FCR as the “most flexible balancing capacity product procured by the transmission system operators”. ‘TheBattery’ will regulate within 30 seconds, automatically and continuously, positive and negative frequency deviations on the network by injecting into, or drawing out, power from the grid. Across Europe, there is a ‘coupled’ market of nations where France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands have been holding joint auctions to provide the service since the beginning of this year. The idea is to offer a large common market for the service at the lowest possible cost.

Alfen executed full system integration duties, including delivery of the software platform that controls it, integrating it into the local network and connecting it to Elia’s high voltage grid. Now operational, the battery system is awaiting qualification by the grid operator.

“We expect storage to play an increasingly important role in balancing our energy systems over the coming years, but also other applications for storage have an enormous market potential,” Engie said in a statement issued earlier this week.

“Frequency control is an increasingly important application for our customers. In the Netherlands we recently delivered a storage system for this application connected to a large wind farm,” Yves Vercammen, Alfen’s country head for energy storage systems in Belgium, said.

“We are also working on storage projects providing load balancing for EV charging plazas, levelling out the peak demands from electric vehicles. Other ongoing projects include micro-grids combining solar PV and storage in local energy systems, and community-based virtual power plants for residential neighbourhoods. We are proud to be the first in integrating this solution in the Belgian grid and will realize more of these systems over the coming months.”

Existing Alfen installation at a wind farm in Europe. Image: Alfen.