9 July 2018

Energy Storage – an Impossible Task for Renewable Sources?

During my last visit to Newcastle, I had the chance to sit down as a team with some true experts and engage in a vivid discussion about energy storage and its points of convergence with the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing. Siemens’ drive for innovation in the digital realm has lead to the initiation of various MindSphere Application Centers throughout the world to develop new business models, digital solutions and services based on IoT.

MindSphere is Siemens’ cloud-based, open IoT operating system. In Newcastle the company has opened a MindSphere Application Centre for Connected Batteries to research solutions for energy storage with renewable sources. Let me share the topics and questions we discussed here:

What are the top-level drivers for the energy mix today?

We are all aware of the rapidly changing dynamics within the energy sector and the impact they have on how our electricity is generated. Government-imposed decarbonisation targets have influenced the shift from traditional coal-fired, or fossil-fuelled plants, to a growing reliance on renewable energy sources. This trend is what is known as ‘decentralised energy generation’. It involves small-scale generation from grid-connected assets that use renewable energy, such as, wind, solar, biomass, hydro power to produce electricity. But while cleaner, greener energy is in demand, renewable sources can be intermittent and unpredictable: the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow. When this happens power generation fluctuations can occur, and security of supply is threatened.

To create balance, energy needs to be stored using technology that is automated and quick to deploy: enter lithium ion batteries. These batteries installed on the grid support the network’s resilience by analysing the balance and either storing power or dispatching it when needed.

Batteries are also key to the new revolution of on-site generation.

Batteries are also key to the new revolution of on-site generation. We are seeing a shift towards businesses producing their own electricity using solar PV or cogeneration units to reduce carbon emissions and better manage their energy costs. On-site lithium-ion battery technology allows the business to store surplus energy and increase the security of their supply – they can even generate revenue by selling excess energy to the grid.

Battery technology has evolved dramatically over the last two decades and Siemens has been at the forefront of innovation in this digital services field. Batteries are now very advanced, energy dense, relatively light and can efficiently store a lot of energy in a surprisingly small footprint.

The supply chain has also changed considerably, from batteries being manufactured in limited numbers a few years ago, we now see mass production from Giga-factories. And because of the supply versus demand balance the cost has fallen significantly, showing an increasing commercial benefit to battery technology year on year.

How does the Siemens Connected Batteries Programme fit into this new world?

Our programme has been introduced to improve cost and efficiency of batteries through the detailed analysis of data. Using our digital services expertise, the programme focuses on extracting data from the batteries, scrutinising it and providing information to our customers about their whole battery system’s state of health.

A battery is like any other appliance, over time it will experience wear and tear which affects its performance, and factors such as temperature and age contribute to its degradation. Each lithium ion battery has a battery management system installed that can deliver data to our open cloud-based platform, MindSphere. Our digital services professionals harvest the data from the battery systems and, using advanced analytics, generates a picture of how the battery is performing and what the degradation looks like.

This level of detailed analysis means our team of industry-leading experts can develop applications that increase performance and efficiency, reduce cost, extend life, and conserve energy. The data empowers our customers to identify battery optimisation and increase revenue. Some examples of the many applications available include:

Financial planning over the lifetime of a project.

The lifetime of the batteries is dependent on how they are used, for example, if they are used for a frequency support business (Firm Frequency Response) they will last much longer than if they are used for energy arbitrage. So, in a typical grid-scale battery project where the cost of the battery cells can be more than 50 per cent of the total CAPEX costs it is essential that, during project planning, the actual lifetime of the batteries is matched to the respective revenue streams.

Operation of the battery.

If the battery is used to make a trade on the energy market, there will be a certain level of degradation associated with the cycling of the battery which incurs a marginal cost. Our teams ensure that this ‘degradation marginal cost’ is integrated into the trading strategy for the customer’s battery to ensure their trades are economically viable.

Predictive maintenance.

Grid batteries are comprised of thousands of individual cells and if one of them fails it can have far reaching effects on the whole system. By monitoring the cells early identification of changes can be made and a scheduled service visit made to resolve the issue before it creates a problem.

Is this something that Siemens does on its own?

We have been fortunate to develop partnerships with Newcastle and Sheffield universities. Both institutions are leading research into the next generations of battery technology and have spearheaded doctoral-level research on how best to develop the design, construction and chemical technology of battery storage.

The universities have also invested in a Siemens’ MindSphere lab, or lounge, where academics and students can harness and analyse the data from their own estate and research assets and other projects that are connected to the MindSphere Innovation Network.

We are fortunate to have these resources contributing to our programme. Both the universities and Siemens are seeing considerable benefits from this level of research and development which is creating skills that will contribute to an increasingly digitalised industry. The collaboration between academia and industry will also lead to the successful development of new business models through digital technologies and subsequent commercial opportunities for all partners.

And, of course, our involvement in the Siemens Core Company Technology for Energy Storage Company Core Technologies gives us the ability to leverage a global network of experts within Siemens as well as a global network of research institutions like Oxford, Cambridge and Aachen amongst others

And what about the future?

The future is exciting for battery technology and our Connected Battery Programme. We will be developing a new range of services enabled by the metrics from the battery as a new revenue stream for Siemens, and we’ll be examining ways in which way our designs can increase efficiency and reduce waste. Overall, we expect to see a continuation of cost reduction and increased storage on the grid.

Further Info:

Connected Batteries Programme

Mindsphere Application Centre at Newcastle University

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