Battery level display symbolises energy storage; Source: istockphoto.com/alengo

© istockphoto.com/alengo

Present situation in energy terms

The incipient changes in the electricity generation structure will result in a growing need for storage capacities in the medium to long term. One option already available is pump-storage technology. The development of alternatives like highly efficient pressurised air storage facilities is only just starting.

Lithium-based electrochemical storage is currently regarded as a promising option for use in vehicles which are partially or fully electrically driven. According to the targets of the National Electric Mobility Platform, the Federal Government aims to have more than a million electric vehicles on the roads by 2020.The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has also set up the funding priority entitled Key energy industry elements of e-mobility. In the long term, electrochemical storage is also regarded as an option for balancing the electricity grids. Currently available electrochemical storage facilities do not deliver the necessary technological and commercial conditions for both uses.

Thermal storage facilities are used in the fields of energy conversion, energy supply and all sectors of final consumption. They represent an important element for the ongoing improvement in energy efficiency and make a major contribution towards the optimisation of energy supply systems (CHP systems).

Material storage media, e.g. hydrogen, are becoming increasingly interesting as an alternative to conventional fuels due to the anticipated scarcity and related increase in the price of primary energy sources.

Technology development and the funding structure

Until a few years ago, research funding for energy storage was not a focus of the Energy Research Programme, not least because there was comparatively little need for electricity storage to balance the grids and no major breakthroughs were being made on electrochemical storage.

This situation has changed dramatically over the last few years. There will be a massive increase in demand for storage facilities in the electricity grids, and new lithium-ion technologies look to have promising uses in electric mobility due to their comparatively high energy and output density.

Energy storage embraces a broad range of technologies and applications, and the technological developments vary widely. For this reason, major aspects of the work to develop stationary energy storage facilities are being carried out as part of an Energy Storage Research Initiative launched jointly by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

Strategically important funding areas

In the interministerial funding initiative for stationary storage facilities, funding can go to research in the following areas:

  • electrical storage (batteries, pressurised air storage, virtual storage, condensers, flywheel and pumped storage),
  • material storage (conversion of flexible quantities of electricity into hydrogen and methane, geological storage, efficient reconversion of electricity stored in materials),
  • thermal storage (materials and design principles, concepts for solar thermal power stations, for supplying buildings, integration in heating networks),
  • overarching issues (management of distributed storage facilities, manufacturing processes, systems analysis and public acceptance of storage facilities).

The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy's activities are mainly focused on the mobile applications, which are not covered by the joint funding initiative described above:

  • electrical storage with a focus on further development of the lithium technology,
  • material storage, particularly for the use of hydrogen,
  • thermal storage with a view to efficiency, availability and costs of application in power stations, industrial processes and buildings.

Sample projects

Sample projects can be found on the pages of the Energy Storage Funding Initiative.