The power to transform

Sami Khoreibi discusses how battery technology has the potential to create entire nations that are self-sufficient when it comes to energy generation

Battery storage gives us the ability to store power when we have more than we need. We can then release it at times of high demand. It’s a real game changer when it comes to renewables, which in the past have been less reliable than fossil fuels because they depend on the changeable forces of nature.

For example, when Enviromena first started installing solar panels on rooftops ten years ago, we could only reap power when the sun was shining. Night time presented a ‘shut off shift’ every evening, when the panels were essentially useless.

Now, thanks to the evolution of technology, we can connect storage to solar panels so excess power feeds into a battery during the day and releases it at night. We’re generating 24-hour electricity and what’s more, it’s coming from a completely renewable source.

With the majority of our projects being in the Middle East and North Africa, where the sun blazes during the day, that presents a huge opportunity.

What could it mean for the Middle East?
Now picture that scenario but rather than a rooftop, we’re talking about a whole country. Currently in the Middle East and North Africa we have a grid which relies on multiple energy elements, like solar, gas, oil and coal.

In the next ten years, we’re going to be at the point where, for about five USD cents we’ll be producing 24 hour electricity, very consistently and eliminating the need to import things like coal from other countries to balance the grid.

That becomes a huge value proposition with countries producing their own energy without having to depend on foreign sources. The benefits of countries producing their own energy without having to depend on foreign sources is huge and that’s not even touching on the environmental impact.

The advancement of storage technologies, particularly in the context of use with solar, is going to lead to a huge transformation of the way we approach energy in the next ten years.

However, there are other factors to consider. The cost and value of oil is likely to be affected if countries can create consistent energy from solar and batteries. As a region that is dependent on the revenues of oil, we need to understand the implications of this.

What needs to happen to further drive the battery revolution?
The PV revolution, which Enviromena was very much at the centre of, was driven by technological improvement and strong investment in PV companies. It will be exactly the same for battery storage.

The technology and economics of lithium ion batteries are in the beginnings of a revolution, where performance is increasing while cost is going down.

Between 2011 and 2015 China’s capacity of solar module production increased by a factor of six. It was a significant contributor to the declining cost of solar. That same type of increase is occurring in lithium ion batteries today. Between 2016 and 2020 we’re looking at a six-fold increase in lithium ion battery production capacity.

We’re seeing massive declines in the cost of solar plus storage. And that means we’re moving towards a renewable baseload energy system.

When Enviromena first started building solar installations in 2007 the cost per kwh per plant was around 35 USD. Today we’re closer to three USD, which is a huge shift.

That will please end users, who ultimately don’t seem to mind where their kwh are coming from, as long as they are cheap. To most, energy is agnostic.

Investment and collaboration
As it’s becoming cheaper, investors are pricking up their ears and treading, albeit carefully, into the world of storage. The financial community is growing more comfortable with investments in energy storage, which lowers the cost to deploy systems even further. Of course, it’s still in the early days but the more we can prove the results, the easier funding will become going forward.

There’s no doubt that the USA is leading the way when it comes to funding and the proof is in the pudding; the first quarter of this year was its biggest to date for the energy storage market. According to GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association’s (ESA) latest US Energy Storage Monitor, 234 megawatt-hours of energy storage were deployed in the first quarter, which represents more than fiftyfold growth year-over-year.

Looking at Enviromena’s home of the Middle East progress is also being made. The UAE plans to invest $163 billion in renewable projects to achieve its 2050 targets and a further $100 billion is being invested across the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council). Meanwhile, GCC member nations are creating new R&D facilities to develop new and improved energy storage solutions in partnership with leading international technology partners.

If we can maintain this momentum and increase collaborations between the public and private sector, I have no doubt that the storage revolution will come into full swing sooner than predicted.

Sami Khoreibi is founder and CEO of Enviromena, the leading provider of transformative energy solutions in the Middle East and Africa. Having installed 17,0000 solar home systems and built more than 40 solar power plants since 2007, the company is now focusing on combining battery storage with its solar projects.

For further information please visit: