Energy storage, the challenge is to go beyond lithium batteries

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With the green light from the European Commission arriving at the end of 2023, Italy finally has a scheme for the centralized storage of electricity produced from renewable sources. This is certainly good news, a concrete step forward towards the objectives of the EU “Fit for 55%” package, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 and to reach 42.5 % of renewables.

Mase explained that investments will be promoted in two technologies – electrochemical storage (lithium ion batteries) and hydroelectric pumping – for an accumulable energy of at least 70 gigawatt hours and a value of over 17 billion euros in ten years. The new storage capacity will be acquired through Terna auctions and the next one will be held within the year.

The energy storage solutions eligible for auctions – considered by Terna as the reference ones – are essentially two: lithium ion batteries and hydroelectric pumping. Only 10% of the total will be assignable to other technologies, even if Terna will update its study on the reference technologies at least every two years. And it is on this point – the solutions eligible for auction – that the feeling is that of an opportunity half-taken.

Solutions on the market

There are various solutions – two of which are made in Italy (side tabs) – called Ldes – long duration energy storage – which use consolidated technologies, do not involve the use of critical raw materials such as lithium and have a longer life and storage life (from four to one hundred hours). Even Elettricità futuro – the main association of the Italian electricity world – in a note sent to Terna had requested a more in-depth analysis of the technologies eligible for auctions, broadening the gaze “to other classes of electrochemical storage, such as sodium-sulphur batteries, to zinc halides or vanadium, or gravitational accumulation with compressed air (Caes) or CO2”. According to the association, limiting participation to just two technologies would bring risks linked to dependence on raw material suppliers, in terms of volumes and prices.

The non-profit organization Ldes Council has classified storage technologies into four types (chemical, thermal, electrochemical and mechanical) and published data on their stage of maturity on its website. Alex Campbell, director of policies and partnerships at Ldes Council, cites some European companies with immediately implementable solutions: «In addition to Magaldi and Energy Dome in Italy, I am thinking of Build to Zero, Cellcube, Ceres, Energy Vault, EnergyNest, Highview Power. Others – such as Alfa Laval, Baker Hughes, Corre Energy – are pursuing LDES as part of their energy solutions. And various foreign companies such as Breakthrough Energies, Google, Sumitomo Shi Fw are investing in Europe.”

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