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Energy Storage: A transformation gaining pace

Batteries will play a central role in the push to enhance energy security, by paving the way for exponential growth in the Middle East’s low-carbon and renewable energy plans, says Mirko Molinari, Global Co Comment: Energy Storage: A transformation gains pace mmercial and Marketing Executive, GE Power

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Energy storage, Battery storage, Power grids, Apicorp, UAE’s Energy Plan 2050

How long will it last? That is usually the first thought that comes to mind when batteries and energy storage are mentioned. We experience it every day with our mobile phones, so it naturally comes to mind when talking about power grids. Now the answer is: much longer and at much more affordable prices. This is especially good news for relieving the burgeoning pressure on the Middle East’s power sector.

Saudi Arabia-based Apicorp estimates an annual 7.4% rise in the Middle East and North Africa’s demand for power capacity between 2017 and 2021, while the United Nations (UN) forecasts significant population growth. The UAE’s population alone could swell by 40% to 13.1 million by 2050.

The Middle East also needs to meet its low-carbon and energy efficiency obligations as per the Paris Agreement. Against this backdrop, power markets are entering a new chapter, characterised by decarbonisation, decentralisation and digitisation. What unites all three to ensure a sustainable power supply? Robust energy storage, including smart batteries.

Since the early 1900s, the power grid has remained balanced by controlling generation to match demand. But today, the importance of energy storage is rapidly climbing governmental and corporate agendas.

The ambitious tone of the UAE’s Energy Plan 2050 echoes across the region; its eagerness to innovative continually gains momentum. The Plan aims to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70%, increase clean energy use by 50% and improve energy efficiency by 40% by the middle of the century.

Kuwait has set goals to increase the share of renewable generation to 15% by 2030, Egypt intends to supply 20% of its generated electricity from renewable sources by 2022, and across the Middle East, BP Outlook expects non-fossil fuels to account for 8% of energy consumption in 2040, compared with 1% today.

These goals are increasingly viable as battery-pack costs are down to less than $230 per kilowatt-hour in 2016, compared with almost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour in 2010, according to McKinsey. As variable and non-dispatchable power sources start to become a larger part of the energy matrix – primarily driven by renewables and nuclear power – energy storage can help keep the grid in balance.

Such reliability is key to reducing peak demand charges and improving grid reliability, for the sun will not shine and the wind will not blow on demand. Batteries will play a central role in the push to enhance energy security, by paving the way for exponential growth in the Middle East’s low-carbon and renewable energy plans.

Research and development (R&D) into commercial innovations lies at the heart of successfully leveraging the digital transformation in power markets, as illustrated by the launch of the GE Reservoir in March.

Incubated and developed at GE’s Global Research labs, it condenses 4MWh and 10 years of energy storage experience into a 20-foot box. It delivers an estimated 15% improved lifecycle on the batteries, 5% higher efficiency and reduced installation time and costs – percentages that translate into millions of saved dollars per year.

The same innovative spirit is evident in the world’s first battery-gas turbine hybrid system, as unveiled by GE and Southern California Edison (SCE) last April. GE has already delivered the first two units to California. Called the LM6000 Hybrid Electric Gas Turbine (Hybrid EGT), the system ticks many essential boxes: it provides enhanced flexibility while aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution by 60% and demineralised water consumption by 45%.

Batteries are an enabler and accelerator in the power market’s new 21st century narrative of diversification. The Middle East will have the capacity to explore many more innovations in energy storage over the coming decades if it confidently strides onto this key stepping stone.

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