Saft May Finish Europe’s Largest Solar-Storage Unit by Year-End

Saft Groupe SA, a French battery maker, may complete building Europe’s largest storage system for a photovoltaic plant by year-end, improving the reliability of solar power compared with fossil fuels, a company official said.

The company, based in Bagnolet near Paris, will start installing a modular lithium-ion battery system for Spanish renewable-energy provider Acciona SA at a solar park in Tudela, Spain, in the second half of the year, Michael Lippert, a Saft marketing manager, said by telephone yesterday.

The 1.1-megawatt project will be one of the world’s first to hold electricity in reserve from a utility-scale photovoltaic plant, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Storage reduces the peak load that must go onto the transmission grid. It also should ease the management of intermittent output from sunshine and wind to make solar power more competitive with generators burning coal or splitting atoms.

“We are seeing more batteries being used with renewables, for both solar and wind,” Shu Sun, an analyst at the London-based research firm said by e-mail. “We expect the electric vehicle market to be a key factor in driving down the cost of lithium-ion batteries used for grid storage.”

Saft, which makes batteries used in submarines, planes and satellites, signed a three-year deal with Acciona in July to improve the reliability, stability and power management of photovoltaic energy.

The initial project at Tudela in northern Spain will store energy for half an hour, reducing fluctuations in the plant’s output and preventing disconnections due to passing clouds.

Grid Stability

Solar and wind parks of at least 1 megawatt can affect the stability of the transmission grid, according to Miguel Arraras, Acciona’s head of photovoltaic development.

“This project is important because we see utilities forcing plant operators to reduce peaks and troughs in output in the future,” he said in an interview.

Acciona’s solar unit operates 19 solar parks with 109 megawatts in capacity in addition to two solar-thermal power plants.

Storage with Saft lithium-ion technology currently adds about 25 percent to the capital expenses of a solar park and is expected to add less than 20 percent by 2015, according to sales engineer Antonio Pome. The cost amounts to about 1 euro ($1.42) per watt, he said by phone.

Similarly sized projects are being developed outside Europe. Kyle, Texas-based Xtreme Power is developing two 1.5-megawatt photovoltaic storage projects in the U.S. and NGK Insulators Ltd. has a 1.5-megawatt system running in Japan, according to Sun.

“There is more traction in markets where the grid network is more isolated and constrained, such as islands like Hawaii,” the analyst said.

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