Batteries are indispensable for our daily lives. We need them to power our smart phones and notebooks, and they make sure our electric vehicle gets from A to B. They have also become a key for maintaining a stable power grid.
Large-scale battery storage systems help balance out fluctuations in the power grid. They can rapidly store electricity and make it available quickly in order to keep production and consumption in balance in the power network.
Be it in a smart phone or an electric vehicle, or as a large-scale battery storage system: Batteries use electrochemical cells that chemically store energy that can be converted into electricity.
Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used electrochemical batteries. The advantage: They have a high energy density. Lots of energy can be stored in a minimal space.
As the term “lithium-ion” suggests, lithium is an important battery component. According to the globally identified reserves, lithium occurs most frequently in Chile, followed by Australia, Argentina and China.
A lithium-ion battery consists of two electrodes, the cathode and the anode. They are separated by an electrolyte, a conductive material. While the cathode comprises storage material like lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide, the anode is normally made of graphite.
When the battery is discharged, the lithium ions – ions are positively charged load carriers – migrate from the anode to the cathode through the electrolytes. At the same time, the anode releases electrons that flow to the cathode by means of an external power circuit, and supply our smart phone or other devices with power. The lithium ions from the anode travel through the electrolytes to the cathode where they accumulate. In contrast, when charging, i.e. when the battery is supplied with power from an outside source, the electric energy is transformed into chemical energy. The lithium ions and the electrons flow in the reverse direction.
When cells are connected in series, also known as serial connection, operating voltage increases. If a higher storage capacity is required, the cells are connected in parallel. These two systems can also be combined.
The most important parameters of a battery are the output (measured in kilowatts, kW, or megawatts, MW), and the energy that can be stored (measured in kilowatt-hours, kWh, or megawatt-hours, MWh).
Axpo works with large-scale battery storage systems. The output and storage capacity of these batteries is in the megawatt or megawatt-hour range.
Large battery energy storage systems (BESS) are designed for high output and large storage capacity. A system consists of a battery system, the battery cell, and an integrated cooling and energy management system (EMS), as well as an energy conversion system comprising inverters and transformers.
Construction of a BESS takes about one year and, as a rule, the system can be operated for 20 years. Environmental impact is minimal in construction and system operation is environmentally friendly.
The majority of battery cells are produced in Asia. The most critical battery component of LFP batteries is lithium. The majority of the global mining of lithium is conducted in South America, Australia and China.
Battery storage capacity decreases over time and through use. One charging cycle per day results in a capacity reduction of about 2% per year.
Batteries contain critical raw materials, which are difficult to mine in Europe. Once the battery has reached its service life, the raw materials can be extracted and recycled.
It is expected that the investment costs for battery systems will decrease in the long term because the efficiency in implementing projects will increase, and more and more scaling effects will be generated. However, lithium shortages can result in a temporary price increase as was seen at the beginning of 2022.
Regulatory framework conditions
Battery storage systems are used in multiple markets and are both power consumers and power generators. It is therefore important that the regulatory authorities set a clear framework for the construction and operation of such systems.
Historically seen, the transmission and distribution grids in most countries were designed with centralised production in mind. The battery capacity that can be installed is dependent on the feed-in point and the network topology at that specific location.
Large battery energy storage systems (BESS) perform the following tasks:
In addition, battery storage systems contribute to ensuring reliable energy supply. Making capacities available can be remunerated.
BESS can be connected in front-of-the-meter (FTM) or behind-the-meter (BTM). As a rule, large-scale battery storage system to support the grid are connected in front-of-the-meter (FTM).
A battery can be operated independently or together with photovoltaic or wind energy systems. The advantage of the second option is that infrastructure can be jointly used (land, grid connection). Operational restrictions are the disadvantage.