The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy has been accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as governments and industry became focused on the issue not only to combat climate change, but to ensure energy security. Europe has necessarily been at the centre of this increased focus, as demonstrated by increasing commitments to eliminate natural gas usage and establish new renewable projects such as the recent announcement of Europe’s largest ever clean energy hub to be built in Germany.
Alan Greenshields has been a specialist in energy storage technology for nearly two decades. He believes that new technologies are needed to solve the world's biggest problems, and currently works as Director EMEA at ESS, Inc. alongside advising in the cleantech technology space. His previous roles include multiple exec roles in energy technology companies including Innolith, Alevo and fortu. He shares insight on the new hub.
What is the new hub, and where will it be?
The clean tech hub will be located in the town of Boxberg, in Eastern Germany. Currently home to an open cast lignite mine and coal-fired power station, the energy company LEAG plans to transition the existing coal infrastructure to 7 – 14 GW renewable generation based on wind and solar with up to 3 GWh of energy storage provided through iron-flow batteries.
The Boxberg power station currently burns 50,000 tonnes of lignite coal daily, creating 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually. By 2030, this will be replaced by 24/7 clean energy generation which equates to around 7% of Germany’s total energy demands.
LEAG, one of the largest energy providers in Germany, operates four open cast coal mines in the region. Green tech manufacturers including iron-flow battery manufacturer ESS Tech Inc, and energy giant Siemens Energy will also be involved as LEAG and its partners will make an initial €200 million investment.
Such a large and diverse deployment is an important step forward for Germany and Europe to move away from unsustainable fossil fuels and towards clean energy. The clean energy hub will help to decarbonise and improve local air quality, increase German energy security, and become a blueprint for the rest of Europe to achieve more ambitious clean energy integration.
Why has that location been chosen?
Boxberg is located in the historic Lusatia region of Eastern Germany which straddles the German-Polish border, a region where the mining and burning of coal have dominated for almost 100 years. Since then, this industry has had a huge impact on the landscape and politics of the area, including the controversial relocation of many settlements to make way for opencast lignite mines.
LEAG’s transition to renewable energy has been initiated by Germany’s commitment to phase out all coal-generated electricity by 2038 at the latest, without using natural gas. This will have a great impact on providing energy security, preventing environmental issues, and supporting local communities as the region pivots toward an energy system fit for the current day.
The new energy hub promises to bring more jobs to Lusatia over the next few years, helping to support the region’s economy which has been struggling with high unemployment and low economic growth since the 1990s.
What role will energy storage play?
LEAG plans to integrate 2-3 GWh of long-duration energy storage at the site in order to support the generation of renewable electricity. ESS will be providing an initial 50 MW / 500 MWh iron flow battery system to facilitate this effort which will serve as a building block for future deployments.
Long-duration energy storage (LDES) systems store energy generated by renewables during peak output periods, preventing energy waste and grid overload. This reserve energy can then be deployed back into the grid during peak demand periods or when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.
ESS batteries at the site will allow the energy hub to generate clean energy no matter the time of day to be available when needed, driving down consumer costs and supporting the 200GW predicted to be needed by 2030 according to the European Association for Storage of Energy to de-carbonise our energy systems.
Rainer Schiller, project lead for stationary large-scale storage at LEAG commented that “Wind and PV is not enough to generate baseload, or secure grid stability 24/7” to highlight the need for long-duration energy storage to increase the efficiency and profitability of the project.
How does the Boxberg project affect the wider European energy attitude?
Boosters of the Boxberg project include the newly formed Energy Resilience Leadership Group (ERLG), which was convened by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy and Siemens Energy among others. Support also comes from Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, which shapes the EU’s overall strategy.
The ERLG have been working to facilitate the Boxberg hub through their work to create partnerships between institutions and vendors to scale up carbon-neutral technology.
Philipp Offenberg, Senior Manager at Breakthrough Energy in Europe commented in an interview with EuroNews that "the idea is to bring policymakers, industry, and then the tech providers all together around the same table" in order to identify and manufacture new technologies to replace fossil fuels.
Such broad support underlines the role of Boxberg acting as a blueprint for the energy transition, not just for Saxony or Germany but for Europe and the global energy industry.
As Europe looks to wean itself off fossil fuels and move towards a greener and more secure future, the energy hub at Boxberg provides an example of how this can be done efficiently and on a large scale. Over a year and a half since the onset of war in Ukraine, the need to undergo this transition has never been more vital for Europe’s energy security.
The size of the deployment, and the integration of wind, solar, green hydrogen and long-duration energy storage will be a tremendous example of how unsustainable energy sources like coal can be phased out.
It is hoped that this deployment will be one of multiple clean energy projects undertaken by LEAG, and the idea of transforming fossil fuel power stations into clean energy sites is not only a compelling concept but a viable option for widespread change.
Across Europe the transformation of old fossil fuel infrastructure into clean energy sites, bringing back jobs and heightened energy security is an exciting prospect, and the hub at Boxberg is set to inspire a trend that will enable the achievement of climate goals.
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