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Energy storage with second life batteries by ENGIE and Umicore

Energy Storage
08/10/2019

The energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is at cruising speed. As the leader of this carbon-free transition, ENGIE already has 681 MW of installed renewable energy capacity in Belgium (solar, wind, biomass and hydropower), making it the largest green electricity producer in the country. 


This figure will continue to increase sharply in the coming years. An important aspect in this development is the intermittence of renewable energy sources: they produce intermittently and are not permanently available. There is no sun at night and when the wind comes down, there is no wind energy and therefore no electricity production. This can have a huge impact on the stability of the electricity grid, for which a balance between production and consumption is permanently necessary.

The more the share of renewable energy sources grows, the more important it becomes to be able to regulate the supply of energy into the electricity grid. And then storage becomes increasingly important.

There are various options for storing energy. The lion's share of storage, more than 90%, is done worldwide via pumping stations such as the ENGIE hydroelectric power station in Coo-Trois-Ponts in Belgium.

In recent years, more and more research has been done into batteries for storing electricity. The main focus is on the lithium-ion batteries that are used in electric cars, among other things, but which can also serve to store energy locally or to contribute to the balance of the mains frequency. It is a very efficient way to store electricity: a storage system based on lithium-ion batteries has a loss of around 15% and therefore an efficiency of around 85%. That is quite high compared to other ways of storing energy. (Pump 75%, hydrogen 40-60%)

ENGIE has been researching and investing for years in energy storage with batteries and already has several innovative projects in Belgium. At the beginning of October it was able to work with Umicore with a real first in this area, namely the first "second life" battery system at an industrial site in Belgium.



"Second life" Battery System at UMICORE

On October 8, 2019, an industrial "second life" battery system was first put into use at the Umicore site in Olen. The system consists of 48 used batteries from electric cars, and now forms one large storage battery of 1.2 MW or 720 kWh.

Now that the electric car is gaining popularity, the question arises as to what will happen to all batteries once the cars are no longer being used. Umicore can recycle these batteries, but often they can also be reused as an energy storage system.

ENGIE, a global player in energy and services, and Umicore, a global player in the production and recycling of materials for rechargeable batteries, have joined forces and are now applying this principle on an industrial scale for the first time.

48 Li-Ion batteries from electric vehicles of the Renault Kangoo brand were placed in containers and will serve as one large storage battery with a capacity of 1.2 MW and an energy content of 720 kWh. The original energy content of the used batteries was 22 kWh per battery, in this so-called "second life" application they still have 15-17 kWh. This means that on arrival in Olen they have two thirds of their original consumption, sufficient to contribute another 10 years to both the circular economy and the energy transition, through net balancing. With a high supply, they take electricity from the grid, with high demand injected.


ENGIE is responsible for the design, installation and operation of the battery system. Its research center ENGIE Laborelec will monitor the performance of the "second life" batteries over the next ten years and analyze this together with Umicore. For example, important knowledge is gained about the life cycle of Li-Ion batteries and the battery system at Umicore is a unique reference case in terms of the circular economy.

How do the batteries work?

The most important application that the batteries will fulfill is to support the primary reserve on the Elia high-voltage grid. The primary reserve is activated on an ongoing basis. The installations that the grid user uses for this reserve automatically detect any frequency fluctuations and respond to this within an activation time in 30 seconds. The battery system will be offered to the primary reserve to ensure that stability of the network.


The batteries will correct imbalances based on the mains frequency. The batteries automatically detect any frequency fluctuations and respond to them within a few seconds. But if there is suddenly a decreasing demand for electricity, then the batteries must absorb energy very quickly. At that time the batteries will charge. If there is suddenly a rising demand, the batteries will return their stored energy.

Another application of the batteries is the addition to renewable energy in order to always have enough energy. With a lot of wind and sun, the electricity that is not immediately taken away is stored in the battery. And with little wind and sun, if there is not enough electricity, the stored electricity is used. For some time, network operators have been looking for such support services that can maintain or restore balance on the network. With this project, ENGIE wants, among other things, to offer that supporting and sustainable factor by testing possibilities to better manage intermittence at customers and partners in order to make the system more intelligent.

This project was made possible in part by one of ENGIE's greatest assets, namely the collaborations of various departments within the Group. The expertise from the various departments of ENGIE (ENGIE Generation Europe, ENGIE Laborelec, ENGIE Fabricom, European Maintenance Services, Connected Energy, etc.) was brought together to steer the project.

ENGIE DERMS (Distributed Energy Ressources Management System) 

Umicore represents the first project in what is being developed as ENGIE DERMS (Distributed Energy Resources Management Systems), a collaborative effort between ENGIE Fab, BU Generation, BU GEM, BU BENELUX to build a new business. ENGIE DERMS combines existing business units’ capabilities and internal start-ups in ENGIE New Venture’s portfolio to take advantage of the decentralization of the energy sector. 

In particular, UMICORE relies on the second life battery technology provided by Connected Energy and the DER management platform developed by KIWI Power. 

The DERMS business comprise the development, ownership and operation, as well as the dispatch & monitoring of these distributed assets.  

Other examples of this innovative business are in mobile batteries for events and festivals, power quality as a service, integration of storage and demand side management… the Bredenoord project, described below, won ENGIE’s internal 2019 innovation award and will be scaled up by ENGIE Fab. 

ENGIE as a reference for energy storage with batteries

The Umicore project is just one example of ENGIE's energy storage activities with batteries. ENGIE has been preparing for several years for storing large amounts of energy in batteries. The ENGIE Batteries Lab started in 2014 at the site of the ENGIE Laborelec research center in Linkebeek, where batteries are being tested. ENGIE has also been entering into good contracts from a very early stage to invest in the development of storage batteries. Meanwhile, 5 years later, ENGIE is a true reference for energy storage, with numerous ongoing projects.

ENGIE energy storage park

In 2017, in addition to the existing steam and gas turbines, various containers were placed at the ENGIE site in Drogenbos, close to ENGIE Laborelec, containing batteries, transformers, converters and computers. They extract electricity from the grid if the grid frequency is too high, store it in batteries and then inject it back into the grid if necessary.

With this project, ENGIE wants to investigate how grid support services can be delivered in the best way and test different types of batteries to determine which are best suited for this work. In addition, ENGIE also wants to learn how it can provide its industrial customers with a certainty of power supply, in order to be able to guide them even better in their carbon-free transition.

Initially it was planned to close the Drogenbos site in October 2017. However, ENGIE decided to keep the gas plant on the market until April 1, 2021. The choice to use this site for the project was made because use is still being made of it the existing connections at Elia without having to look for alternatives. That makes the Drogenbos site an interesting location to install the battery park.

Lithium-ion batteries from five different suppliers (Alfen, GE, Ineo Scle Sfe, Younicos, Toshiba) were placed in the Energy Storage Park of Drogenbos that can store a total of 6 megawatts. This capacity can be compared with 120 electric cars or the energy capacity of 3 wind turbines. In a later phase the park can be expanded with extra lithium batteries.
As with the battery project in Umicore, the main application of the batteries in the Energy Storage Park of Drogenbos is to support the primary reserve on the Elia high-voltage grid. But the project is also future-oriented and will help ENGIE to find out more about the operation of batteries, to test different energy models and to gain experience in the purchase, use, installation and operation of batteries.

Technological platform

In addition to the ENGIE Energy Storage Park, the Drogenbos site will also serve as a technological platform where batteries can be used for other projects or where new technologies can be tested on the site. The batteries are stored in containers on trucks, making them easy to use in other locations. For large industrial customers, for example, who receive a flexible solution for storing locally produced energy. In addition, new energy storage techniques are also being considered. Finally, ENGIE is also looking for an option for residential customers to also provide storage batteries at home.

Local energy communities

The introduction and increasing use of batteries has fundamental consequences for the way electricity is handled. The biggest change is the decentralization of both the production and storage of electricity. With the increase in the number of solar panels, both by private individuals and by companies, and the falling price of batteries, it may become interesting to store locally generated electricity for their own use. For example, neighborhoods, municipalities or cities can group together as local energy communities to generate, store and consume their own electricity locally.

To prepare for the evolution to local storage, ENGIE Laborelec is investigating the use of batteries in its Peer-to-Peer Energy Communities project. In addition, local partnerships are established between private individuals aiming for a common electricity management. Some participants make their solar panels available and others a battery to efficiently distribute the generated electricity among all participants in the community. A project is currently underway in Oud-Heverlee, in which around 10 batteries of different makes were installed in a certain street at the home of a few people. The intention is to control these remotely according to the local production of solar panels in the street and to attune to the behavior of the participants.

In addition, there are also a number of B2B pilot projects around these local energy communities, in which ENGIE plays an important role.

In Liège : ENGIE, Resa, the SPI and the University of Liège want to create a micro grid in the largest business park in the province of Liège. In April 2019, a call was made to companies from Park Hauts-Sarts to participate in this innovative project and share their energy.

ENGIE will become the manager and integrator of this local and sustainable energy community. The challenge is to create an electrical circuit in an energy plan that aims to share locally produced green energy, reduce energy bills and reduce the environmental impact.

Even though the regulatory framework still needs to be adjusted to allow the operation of this type of energy community, this is an ambitious initiative by various partners to demonstrate the efficiency of such a system and to be able to adapt any legislative texts in this area. introduce.

In Mechelen : various partners, including ENGIE, are considering the possibility of setting up a micro grid, with solar panels, a battery and an energy management system to better match supply and demand.

Various types of batteries (including non-lithium batteries) will be tested for this project, to see what the most interesting solutions are for a local energy community from a technical and economic point of view.

For ENGIE, such local energy communities are one of the solutions that need to be developed to meet the challenges of intermittent renewables. With these kinds of collaborations, ENGIE is realizing its ambition to become the leader of the zero carbon transition and to make Belgium a champion of energy efficiency with an increasingly greener, more local and smarter energy.


Mobile batteries countainers

Energy storage in large capacity is also available for temporary projects at changing locations. In this context, ENGIE entered into a partnership earlier this year with the company Bredenoord, which develops decentralized energy systems, to purchase a few battery containers each year and then rent and operate them. ENGIE has already purchased two mobile containers. The market that is being approached here is that of events, for example festivals are making increasing use of such mobile battery containers, but construction sites are also asking for this. The mobile battery is filled with renewable energy and avoids the use of temporary generators to provide more electricity for a short period.

The rental of the mobile batteries fits in perfectly with ENGIE's ambition to be the leader of the carbon-free transition 'as a service': it offers its customers the opportunity to temporarily store green, local energy in the batteries and thus contribute to it contribute to the balancing of the electricity grid. ENGIE is the first player to offer these containers on such a scale.



Energy management system 

Industrial customers can also turn to ENGIE for a permanent energy storage installation. In the coming months, ENGIE will install a 1.2 MWh battery at the Liège Natie transport and storage company in Antwerp that is part of an innovative Energy Management System. The battery will be connected with 3,800 solar panels and two double electric charging points and ensure maximum "car consumption": the energy produced does not go to the grid, but directly to Liège Nation.

This project is another major step forward in ENGIE's ambition to provide its customers with the best possible guidance in the energy transition and is also fully in line with the desire of Liège Natie to become fully CO₂ neutral in the long term.

ENGIE installs a customized battery for this specific energy management system, with a storage capacity of 1.2 MWh. Thanks to this battery, connected to the cooling warehouse on the site, Liège Natie can absorb the intermittence of its own renewable energy production on the site (solar panels and wind turbine) and enable the company to become as independent of the electricity grid as possible. ENGIE Laborelec is responsible for the dimensioning, specification and monitoring of the battery.

After the battery has been taken into service, a state-of-the-art energy management system will manage the large energy consumers on the site in function of the production of local, green energy. When there is a lot of sun and wind, the energy can be stored for later use. In the event of scarcity, the energy consumption of Liège Natie can be temporarily reduced.

The battery is financed by ENGIE via the third investor model and becomes the property of Liège Natie after 10 years. The project is co-financed by the Environment Department of the Flemish government.


Synergies within ENGIE

In addition to the aforementioned examples, there are also other projects at ENGIE concerning energy storage with batteries. This means that ENGIE can rightfully be called a reference in battery storage. It is thanks to the many collaborations, both internally and externally, that ENGIE can offer the latest technologies to its industrial customers. Various entities within the ENGIE Group contribute to this: ENGIE Laborelec for the study, design and monitoring of batteries, ENGIE Fabricom for the installation of electrical facilities, Tractebel for the studies and dimensioning of batteries, ...  In addition, it also works together with numerous innovative companies (including start-ups) for the follow-up of the various projects.

“ENGIE strongly believes in the technology of battery systems. With the energy transition that is currently taking place, we have to think carefully about how energy can be produced in a different way and how ENGIE can help our customers with that simple change. After all, ENGIE is the largest energy player and largest green energy producer in Belgium and wants to make Belgium a role model in energy efficiency. These battery systems facilitate the road to the energy transition, for the market and for our customers, and to be able to respond as effectively as possible to the challenges of tomorrow. The various battery projects currently underway allow ENGIE to become a reference in experiences and solutions of energy storage with our customers, partners and governments. ”(Philippe Van Troeye, CEO ENGIE Benelux)