Future energy storage

Thomas Justus Schmidt (PSI)

Present situation worldwide and in Switzerland

Future energy storage technologies strive for large-scale energy storage systems able to seasonally balance the discrepancies between power production and power consumption that can be caused by the transition from fossil and nuclear baseload energy provision toward fluctuating renewable power supply. Given the level of acceptance displayed by the Swiss population for the Swiss Energy Strategy 2050 (adoption of the Swiss Energy Act by voters in May 2017), it is likely that the transition described above will indeed take place. Should no new storage technologies become available by 2030, this would greatly strain the transmission grid.

Available short-term storage technologies for heat and power, e.g. batteries, are currently able to balance production and consumption peaks. However, issues of cost and reliability remain to be addressed in order to make the installation of short-term storage facilities more attractive.

In future, long-term energy storage systems will become necessary to reduce reliance on energy imports and lower electricity costs in winter. Such storage systems, e.g. power- to-gas or compressed air storage plants, are currently at development stage but will be critical to meeting climate targets. This applies to Switzerland as well as all other countries committed to achieving their climate objectives.

Implications for Switzerland

Some energy system scenarios make do without longterm storage options. However, such scenarios take as their starting premise a power grid in Switzerland and neighbouring countries that is firstly dimensioned to handle peak loads and secondly reliant on sufficient power imports from countries generating production surpluses even in winter. Heavy dependence on neighbouring countries’ energy policy, potentially high costs and the vulnerability of such a system amount to considerable risks for Switzerland, which long-term storage technologies can help mitigate.

It is strongly recommended to keep researching and assessing options for the long-term storage of energy and to scale them up from laboratory to industrial scale. With the Swiss Competence Centres for Energy Research (SCCERs) and other support schemes, Switzerland has laid strong foundations for the successful development of the required technology. Going forward, research networks must be allowed to remain intact and keep growing. In this light, the current lack of business models in the field of long-term energy storage is cause for concern. It makes it difficult to find industrial partners willing to invest in long-term developments in order to keep networks going.