The Finnish energy system is facing challenges. It needs to become more flexible and nimble, while fulfilling the obligations set by EU directives on the use of renewable forms of energy, the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, and fuel consumption in traffic.
However, solar and wind energy production is not in step with demand for energy. That is why a technology is now being developed that enables energy to be stored and used when needed – say when charging an electric car, or when electricity is at its most expensive.
– We are also seeking applications for guaranteeing a reliable power supply at national level. Some businesses and residents have traditionally had their own auxiliary power units in case of outages. In the future, such devices could also be used at regional level, to secure the power supply on a wider basis, says VTT Research Manager Kari Mäki.
Time for new ideas and experimentation
Energy storage based on a range of technologies is already available on the markets, the most common means being batteries. While lithium-ion batteries tend to predominate, lead-acid batteries are still used for some applications. Very large amounts of energy can be stored in water through PSH (pumped storage hydroelectricity), for example.
– We now live in an era of new ideas and experimentation, in which we are seeking the most efficient way to store large amounts of energy. In the future, it looks as though energy will be stored in gas, heat or other similar media from which it can be sourced when needed, Mäki says.
Development of batteries is ongoing, although it will take time to commercialise new technologies created in the laboratory. Plunging solar panel prices and growth in the number of electric vehicles will create demand for stored energy among both households and businesses.
Potential for flexibility
Energy storage can also be used to manage consumption. It can enable the optimisation of electricity consumption on a certain property in line with electricity prices: energy is accumulated from the network when it is cheapest and used during price spikes.
There are also markets for services which help to balance supply and demand, and for reserve capacity. In times of low power availability at national level, some sources of consumption could be run at a lower level by prior agreement. For example, turning the heating down momentarily in some offices or public authorities would go unnoticed, but a major resource would be obtained from several sites for redistribution.
– New models will soon be available for elasticity of demand. For example, there is commercial interest in a system which combines a large number of small electricity storage sites, connecting them to the general distribution network and solar panels. In Finland, the market and legal obstacles related to these options are being explored, Mäki explains.
Traffic going electric
Alongside industry, traffic is one of the most prominent sectors set to benefit from the new business models growing up around new energy storage methods. Electric buses are already on the roads in Espoo and will soon be introduced in Helsinki, Turku and Tampere.
– The key issue is the relationship between the purchase price of vehicles and battery life. When electric cars and buses enter mass production, prices will fall. And as the technology advances, battery life will improve, says Mikko Pihlatie, a Team Leader at VTT.
Pihlatie points out that VTT's role involves exploring which technologies are available on the markets and under development, and which solutions best serve which end users.
– Our focus is not on developing the manufacturing technology or materials of batteries, but on evaluating which technology is needed in a certain application and how we can make the traffic, energy or production system in question as optimal, reliable and cost-effective as possible, explains Pihlatie.
Our research focuses include mobile applications for electric cars, buses, heavy vehicles and construction machines on the one hand, and energy storage facilities ranging from back-up power supply solutions to local energy production on the other. Applications are also being developed for marine traffic.
Teraloop will revolutionise the global energy storage system
The Finnish company Teraloop Ltd has been exploring a technology for storing huge amounts of energy, based on a kinetic-mechanical solution. Due to the major limitations of other energy storage technologies, Teraloop's solution could generate added value in the production of renewable energy.
In a nutshell, this is a solution for storing electricity in a large mass moving around in a toroid-shaped tube. The kinetic energy obtained in this way can be converted into electricity very quickly.
VTT's task has been to sketch out the technical potential and feasibility of this energy storage project. The ability to combine technical skills from a number of fields is required in the related technical R&D.
– Since this concerns a Finnish invention and company, Teraloop chose VTT as a partner to support the project's interdisciplinary research. VTT has a strong track record in the required fields of technology – the kind of expertise needed to create the concept. VTT's strong team is helping us to create a product which the world is waiting for, says Ted Ridgway Watt, the CEO of Teraloop.
Among other results, VTT has developed potential solutions for the structure and physics of the new idea and has analysed the efficiency of the storage method. VTT's current tasks involve exploring the physical concepts and phenomena, and designing the mechanical components and prototypes.
– This is both a challenging and interesting research area, involving the development and construction of a multi-physical simulation environment for research purposes. Teraloop's technology has posed some interesting challenges, which we are attempting to overcome alongside their R&D people, says Johannes Hyrynen, a Director of Research Area at VTT.
Teraloop aims to break into the global markets with fully developed products by around 2020.
Read more: http://www.teraloop.com