As the solar wave sweeps across Europe, grids creaking across Europe highlight the continent’s overwhelming need for energy storage.
During the winter, EU renewable energy sources produced more electricity than fossil fuel energy sources for the first time, and their share of energy sources was 40 percent. The high price of fossil fuel imports and the need for energy independence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine require a major change in the EU’s energy system. One thing is definitely clear: the sun and renewable energy sources can work in Europe in all seasons. This is only possible with a strong and flexible energy infrastructure.
Worryingly, more and more information has become available about the limitations of solar energy. The Czech Republic had to shut down several solar power plants in April due to abundant sunny weather. Similarly, Poland’s grid operator has recently declared an official “threat” to electricity supplies due to a surplus energy problem. Developers and system operators across Europe are warning that the grid will not be able to handle the low-cost sustainable energy generated by the solar boom.
Failure to update the grid and maximize flexibility limits self-sabotage. In the energy and climate crisis, we cannot afford to waste a single electron from renewable electricity in favor of polluting fossil fuels. We need to start taking energy storage seriously, ease grid constraints and get Europe’s electricity grids ready for the solar season.
A role for storage
Flexible solutions, including demand response and energy storage, must be actively involved in the energy transition. One example is solar energy with co-located energy storage. Such hybrid systems can play a key role in meeting the flexibility needs of a carbon dioxide-free and distributed energy system. More importantly, these systems have the ability to save every drop of extra energy generated by the solar panels to ease the grid during periods of stress.
Ultimately, EU countries need to start fully deploying flexibility solutions such as energy storage to complete the grid in both the short and long term. Despite the excellent regulatory framework proposals outlined in 2019, in the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” package, little progress has been made in Europe so far. Other regions, such as the United States, are making progress in utilizing flexibility.
Fortunately, there are positive signs on the horizon. The EU’s proposal to review the design of the electricity market reflects the existing potential and proposes new instruments aimed at developing non-fossil fuel flexibility solutions, including energy storage. These facilities are intended to relieve pressure on the grid, deliver solar energy 24/7 and help energy storage owners see a return on their investment.
A new coalition
SolarPower Europe is a founding partner of the recently launched Energy Storage Coalition, a new organization working to increase storage capacity across Europe and promote clean energy storage solutions as part of Europe’s overall energy transition. EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson emphasized at the alliance’s recent opening ceremony that energy storage is key to building a future-proof, sustainable and carbon dioxide-free energy system. The solutions are clear: if we want to avoid future grid outages, Europe must invest in storage capacity.
We can look to countries like Greece for inspiration; The Athens government is spending 341 million euros ($370 million) to increase energy storage capacity. The country has also recently launched a €200 million solar-plus-battery subsidy scheme for small storage systems and solar projects in the agricultural and residential markets.
If we can take away from last year, it’s that renewable energy sources, including solar, are the future. Fossil fuels are a thing of the past. Renewable electricity has already proven to be able to fight the energy crisis and we can expect the share of electricity produced with renewable energy to increase year by year.
To ensure the continent’s energy security, Europe’s energy storage potential must be seriously considered and put into use. Renewable energy sources can supplement Europe with a strong and flexible network infrastructure. Let’s start improving the future-proofing of our networks by investing in energy storage and other flexibility solutions, such as demand response, and avoid wasting more solar rays.
About the author: Walburga Hemetsberger has worked in Brussels for over 18 years. Before taking over as CEO of SolarPower Europe in 2019, Hemetsberger headed Verbund’s representative office in Brussels and was a member of Hydrogen Europe’s board. His previous experience has been head of EU representation at Verbund for nine years, financial and capital markets advisor at The Association of German Public Banks and Association of Public Banks, and competition lawyer at Haarmann Hemmelrath.