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Urban Insight: the future city is an energy storage city

28 november 2019

A smart city where energy is needed on the go, a city where a large share of energy comes from renewable sources. The storage city is a city where the internet-ofthings allows communication between appliances and infrastructure enabling us to use energy efficiently and achieve high quality services.

I had the pleasure of being the lead author of the fifth Urban Insight report of 2019. The theme this year is urban energy and our report focused on energy storage technologies, such as batteries, geothermal systems, and hydrogen. In our report, we have identified the following future trends and opportunities for achieving storage cities:

  • Day-to-day and seasonal storage

The key to smart urban energy storage lies in the combination of technologies. For day-to-day storage and electricity needs, the storage city thus includes micro-grids where solar panels are combined with Li-Ion batteries. For seasonal storage as well as heating and cooling needs, geothermal and hydrogen storage would fit, if economies of scale are achieved for such systems. There is no “one-solution-fits-all” and this is why we need battery, thermal, and hydrogen storage combined in the future city.

  • E-mobility and portable storage

E-mobility is expanding, and we now see electric cars, bikes, scooters and kick bikes in the streets. Soon they might be joined by more fuel cell vehicles running on hydrogen. All these vehicles will be used beyond their expected role as transport means to become a component of the storage system; they charge when renewable energy is abundant in the system and they feed back the micro-grid’s battery with energy when needed. Portable storage with safer solid-state batteries and hydrogen bottles will mean that our phone will never run out of battery again when we need it the most.

  • Neighbourhood batteries, thermal grids and the virtual power plant concept

In order to maximize the effectiveness of the system and decrease the investment risk, residents of a building or a whole building block could come together and invest in a neighborhood battery or a thermal grid. This means lower installation and maintenance costs per household and can be more easily aggregated with the other neighborhood systems, forming a so-called virtual power plant, which is term used when smaller storage components aggregate.

  • The new energy technology ecosystem influenced by behaviour and psychological drivers

The economy of storage is improving and, in some cases, has reached cost-parity with the conventional technology alternatives, but, the still high upfront costs could discourage investments. Decisions regarding household consumption and choice of technologies has though been proven to also be influenced by behavioral aspects and not purely driven by financial incentives. 

In other words, no matter how much storage solutions are perfected due to continuous research and development, the full potential will not be realized until the public accepts, understands and desires these technologies.  New technologies are more vulnerable to various misconceptions than already established technologies.

  • Tailoring energy systems: energy storage-as-a-service

A way to curb these barriers would be to ride the wave of anything-as-a-service (X-as-a-service or XaaS). In the XaaS model the product becomes available to the customer as a service usually against a monthly or annual fee. Mobility-as-a-service, charging-as-a-service, subscriptions for food, accessories, films, or music. Why not a subscription for energy storage? Energy-storage-as-a-service can curb the barrier of high upfront investment costs, help aggregating multiple storage sources together, and give the public the opportunity to test a solution without the commitment of a long-term investment.

It takes about 15% of the users in a market to adopt a technology for it to reach a so-called “tipping point”. Are we close to this tipping point for energy storage?

There is certainly a long way to go, but we are on it.

Read more about energy storage in our report, Beyond the tipping point: future energy storage!

Maria Xylia har 10-års erfarenhet som forskare och konsult inom energi-och klimatområdet. Maria är PhD i energisystem från KTH. Hon har utvecklat, lett och deltagit i uppdrag inom hållbara transporter med fokus på elektrifiering av kollektivtrafik, samt tekniska, ekonomiska och miljöstudier av energisystem inom transportsektorn, industrin och bostadssektorn.

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