Author profile picture

As the world moves towards a greener future, energy storage emerges as a crucial focal point. Lead-acid batteries, once commonly used for car ignition, are reemerging with safer, more efficient designs. Alternative storage solutions are gaining momentum, offering the promise of a resilient and diverse energy grid. The limitations of lithium-ion batteries have prompted a quest for alternative concepts. Here are the five most promising alternative storage technologies from abroad the Netherlands can learn from. 

Why this is important:

In this article, we explore innovative solutions from abroad, particularly those with real-world applications and implications, to give insights into potential pathways for enhancing energy resilience, reducing carbon emissions, and shaping a greener future.

Heat storage: a granular approach

The Finnish company Polar Night Energy developed  a battery system that capitalizes sand – a very inexpensive material –  to store thermal energy. This innovation is not only cost-effective but also boasts the ability to retain heat for several months. 

The world’s first grid-connected sand battery in Finland exemplifies the potential of this technology, storing a staggering eight megawatt-hours of thermal energy. It stands as a testament to the system’s capacity to bridge the energy gap between seasons, making it a game-changer for countries like the Netherlands with large fluctuations in energy demand throughout the year.

Sand’s high energy storage capacity per volume compared to water offers a significant advantage. The sand is heated to temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius using electricity from the grid or local renewable sources. This heat can later be converted to process steam or used for district heating, as seen in the Finnish district heating system powered by sand batteries. The expansion of this technology, with projects like Vattenfall’s large heat storage facility in Germany, marks a significant step in the transition to sustainable and reliable energy supply.

This is an article from our magazine IO Next: Energy Storage. In the puzzle of our new energy system, balancing supply and demand for energy is the greatest challenge. And that’s why we dedicate this magazine to that crucial puzzle piece.

Pumped hydro: leveraging elevation and water flow

Pumped Storage Hydropower (PSH) utilizes the flow of water to store and release power. Originating in the 1890s, this technology has stood the test of time. PSH has been the backbone of energy storage for decades, offering substantial storage capacities, such as the 20 million kWh capacity at the Nant de Drance Hydropower Plant in Valais in Switzerland. The technology is less fitting for regions like the Netherlands, where elevation differences required for PSH are scarce. Nevertheless, the expansion of Scotland’s ‘Hollow Mountain’ hydro storage plant underscores the enduring relevance and potential of PSH in the global energy transition.

Europe’s ambition to increase its renewable energy target to 42.5 percent by 2030 is contingent upon increasing its energy storage capabilities, with a 200 gigawatt target set for 2030. There are around 600,000 potential sites for closed-loop systems worldwide, so the role of water batteries cannot be overstated.

Gravity takes a new form

Beyond PSH, gravity storage is seeing innovation with companies like the Swiss company Energy Vault. Their gravity-based energy storage solution utilizes the concept of potential energy, lifting and lowering composite blocks made from local materials to store and dispatch energy. This system boasts an impressive 80 to 85 percent round-trip efficiency with a technical life exceeding 35 years. Energy Vault’s EVx tower is strategically designed to provide flexible energy storage duration, ranging from 2 to 24 hours, catering to both higher power/shorter duration and longer-duration requirements.

The gravity-based storage concept is also being developed by Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES), with its simplicity standing out. ARES uses the weight of train cars on tracks to store and release energy, exemplifying yet another approach to leveraging gravity for energy storage. These gravity storage solutions are particularly appealing as they do not rely on specific topography, unlike traditional PSH, and can be built close to renewable energy sources like wind farms.

Lead-acid batteries: the classic reimagined

Lead-acid batteries are experiencing a renaissance due to advancements in valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries, deep-cycle designs, and smart charging methods. Despite concerns regarding energy density and the presence of dangerous materials, these batteries are becoming more adaptable, efficient, and safe. Projects are underway to integrate lead-acid batteries into modern applications, such as providing backup power at electric vehicle charging stations.

The global lead battery market is predicted to grow significantly, driven by the electrification of the transportation sector and the continuous refinement of the technology. Lead-crystal and carbon foam batteries have led to performance increases, addressing issues like weight and thermal stability. Notably, advancements in this field are being spurred by the demands of modern naval weapons systems, indicating the robust nature of this storage solution.

Hydrogen: from electricity to gas and back again

Hydrogen is seen as a practical solution for storing and moving energy. It allows us to turn surplus electricity into a gas that can be kept for long periods. Later, we can convert this stored hydrogen back into electricity to meet power needs. This versatility makes hydrogen a compelling choice for energy systems.

Denmark and the Netherlands are already exploring this path. A cutting-edge North Sea island, planned by Denmark, will use wind power to produce hydrogen, aiming to power millions from 2033. Across the sea, a new hydrogen test network in Groningen places the Netherlands at the forefront of testing and implementing hydrogen technologies. These projects exemplify the practical steps Europe is taking to adopt sustainable energy storage, with hydrogen as a key component in the push for a reliable, green future.