BEST has been in Amsterdam for the European Utility Week conference & exhibition. Until 2012, the show was known as Metering & Billing Europe and, frankly, was not worthy of the short hop across the North Sea from BESTmag Towers.
Renaming it ‘European Utility Week’ is a masterstroke, as while it still heavily features the world of metering and billing, there are now several conference streams focused on grid infrastructure, integrating renewables and what brought BEST to Amsterdam: energy storage.
Marketing itself as a transmission & distribution (T&D) show rather than just metering/billing has boosted prestige and interest - attendance is now around 8,000. Best of all, utilities – a large chunk of the hoped-for customer base of energy storage - attend the event. And because of this, we get to see which side of the bread upon the energy storage butter is spread.
In great contrast to dedicated energy storage and battery events, for the most part European Utility Week was pretty down on batteries and energy storage, despite the achingly trendy 'Energy Experience' hall with its gleaming Tesla S and have-a-go-on-an-ebike circuit.
Phrases like “too expensive”, “no business case”, "not needed", “unreliable batteries" were bandied about with regularity.
Perhaps this is not so surprising in an industry event financially supported by huge transmission and distribution equipment OEMs like Siemens, GE, Alstom and Schneider Electric who are very happy selling transformers, switchgear, power cables and a whole host of other expensive wares with which battery storage systems may compete.
In fairness, some of the same companies also proudly displayed energy storage products, often pride of place. But nobody is fooled that these are anything other than tokenistic gift-wrapping, packaging other companies’ energy storage systems with an Alstom, Siemens etc. logo on the side of the container.
For the time being, however, this pessimism is warranted in Europe. Time and again delegates were told the design of European electricity markets has to change if energy storage is to stand a chance.
Whether it’s DNO/DSO regulation that effectively prevents grid companies investing in storage to provide ancillary services, direct incentives for energy storage capacity or a cut/curtailment of solar PV and renewable feed-in tariffs, without change the economics of battery storage are very hard to stack up at today’s prices.
Yet the necessary changes are seemingly out of reach for now. And this is why - aside from the plethora of largely tokenistic demonstration sites across the continent - the real energy storage action will largely take place not in Europe, but across the Atlantic in the United States and East Asia.