Power Reserves: Securing Europe’s Renewable Future

Michael Sullivan

While renewable energy offers a clean and sustainable future, its dependence on variable conditions presents a challenge for consistent power delivery. Renewable energy production is heavily reliant on ideal weather conditions, which are often unpredictable. Solar panels perform best on sunny days, and wind turbines require consistent breezes to generate power. However, Europe cannot always depend on these favorable conditions. Beyond weather, the demand for renewable energy fluctuates dramatically throughout the day, leading to potential overproduction and energy waste at times, and underproduction and shortages at others. This inherent variability highlights the critical need for substantial investment in renewable energy storage solutions. By developing advanced storage systems, Europe can ensure a stable and reliable power supply, even during periods of volatility. Such investment is essential to maintain continuous energy access, regardless of demand levels or weather conditions.

Current Situation

With renewable energy’s share of the power mix expected to rise from 37% in 2021 to 69% by 2030, and a corresponding decrease in fossil fuel usage, the EU faces a critical need for significant investment in storage. With fewer fossil fuel energy sources available, Europe will have a diminished safety net to rely on in the event of disruptions to the renewable energy electrical grid. Therefore, Europe needs substantial investment in energy storage to prevent grid instability, blackouts, and the risk of falling short of its ambitious renewable energy goals. 

While the EU’s energy storage sector is growing rapidly, it still falls short of the pace needed to meet the targets set by the Net Zero Industry Act. In 2022, only 2.8 GW of utility-scale energy storage was deployed, bringing the total capacity to approximately 9 GWh. This is significantly below the 200 GWh target needed by 2030 to fully integrate renewable energy sources and ensure a stable grid. The EU has recognized the critical need for a reliable, sufficient, and diverse energy storage system and has consequently implemented directives to support and expand this growing industry.

Firstly, while lacking a specific action plan for storage capacity growth, the 2022 RePowerEU initiative serves as a crucial early step. It recognizes the critical role energy storage plays in achieving the EU’s ambitious renewable energy goals. This recognition paves the way for more detailed strategies and investment plans to harness the full potential of storage solutions. Building on the momentum established by RePowerEU, the EU’s Energy Storage Recommendation, adopted by the Commission in March 2023, translates recognition into action. This comprehensive document outlines concrete steps to propel the energy storage industry forward. Key recommendations include reducing regulation, encouraging member states to set ambitious storage targets within their national plans, and fostering increased research and development efforts across the entire storage sector. Additionally, the Recommendation pushes grid operators to consider cost-effective storage solutions as an alternative to expensive grid expansions. It further explores financing gaps and investigates fair compensation for the multiple services storage provides, making storage projects more financially attractive. Recognizing the specific challenges faced by islands and remote areas, the EU prioritizes storage deployment there to help them move away from imported fossil fuels. 

Storage Technology

Currently, pumped hydro storage remains the dominant storage technology in the EU. This technology utilizes reservoirs to store excess energy by pumping water uphill and generating electricity when needed by releasing water downhill through turbines. However, pumped hydro has limitations, such as its dependence on specific geographical locations. Recognizing this need for diversification, the EU is actively exploring and investing in innovative storage solutions. Lithium-ion batteries are gaining significant traction due to their flexibility and decreasing costs. 

Lithium-ion batteries stand out as the preeminent technology for renewable energy storage. Their advantages include high energy density for compact storage, exceptional charging and discharging efficiency, scalability for diverse applications, and a long life cycle for cost-effective and reliable performance. Thus, the EU has established specialized groups to support and advance their development, such as the European Battery Alliance (EBA), a public-private partnership launched in 2017. The EBA brings together EU national authorities, regions, industry research institutes, and other stakeholders across the battery value chain aiming to develop a secure and environmentally friendly future for energy storage in Europe. The EBA released their action plan in 2018 focusing on 6 key aspects of the industry: 

  1. Securing access to battery raw materials
  2. Supporting European battery cell manufacturing and investments
  3. Strengthening industrial leadership via research and innovation
  4. Developing a highly skilled workforce across the value chain
  5. Promoting a sustainable EU battery cell manufacturing industry
  6. Ensuring alignment with broader frameworks

While each aspect of the EBA’s mission is important, a critical area for emphasis is securing a diversified supply chain for Critical Raw Materials (CRMs), essential components in battery production. The EU currently faces a vulnerability due to its limited domestic CRM resources and heavy reliance on a few external suppliers. For instance, China supplies 100% of the EU’s heavy rare earth elements, Turkey provides 98% of the EU’s boron (essential for wind turbines), and South Africa meets 71% of the EU’s platinum needs (crucial for electric vehicles). This overdependence mirrors the recent natural gas situation with Russia, highlighting the urgency of diversification. To address this issue, the Council adopted the European critical raw materials act which has the goal to increase and diversify the EU’s critical raw materials supply strengthen circularity, including recycling, support research and innovation on resource efficiency and the development of substitutes. Specifically, this act aims to boost domestic CRM production to 10% of EU needs, increase recycling to 25% of annual consumption, and diversify supply sources by limiting reliance on any single country to 65% of annual consumption. By achieving these goals, the EU can foster a self-sufficient and secure battery industry, unshackling it from dependence on external suppliers and ensuring continued, sustainable growth. This, in turn, strengthens Europe’s ability to confidently rely on lithium-ion batteries as a cornerstone of its clean energy future.

Ultimately, as Europe transitions to a predominantly renewable energy grid, robust energy storage solutions are crucial to ensure stability and reliability. The new Parliament will be required to balance the goals of the Net Zero Industry Act, foster innovation and investment in energy storage, and secure a diversified supply chain for critical raw materials. This approach will help mitigate risks associated with energy variability and ensure a sustainable, reliable power supply for the future.



*picture is AI generated


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