"Solar energy and storage in batteries is far beyond the pilot phase. Investment amounts have strongly decreased and this form of sustainable energy generation can potentially grow substantially", says Margit Deimel, Head of Large-scale Solar Power. The unit is a part of Business Unit Solar & Batteries within Business Area Wind.
On the lookout for viable business cases
Business Unit Solar & Batteries focuses on three products: large-scale solar, decentralised solar (B2B customers with large roofs) and batteries (large-scale and decentralised on B2B customer premises). For all the products, the unit starts by looking for potential business cases in all markets. Today, solar power and battery storage are set to make a significant contribution to Vattenfall's energy targets.
Deimel is responsible for large-scale solar power. There is already a large-scale solar farm in Wales (at Parc Cynog Wind Farm, 5 MW). In the Netherlands, solar energy projects with a capacity of more than 200 MW are in the pipeline. However, this is not Deimel's only focus. She is also on the lookout for potential projects in Germany, the UK, Denmark, Sweden and adjacent countries. "The first thing I do is establish whether there is potential for us to work on projects with our existing contacts, and I put together a potential business case for each country. Suffice to say that this varies from one country to another."
In Germany, for example, Vattenfall already have a good network of contacts, and many companies are keen to get in touch and work with Vattenfall. In Germany, a subsidy scheme via auctions is still in place for solar power.
"In the UK, on the other hand, there is no subsidy scheme for solar power (or onshore wind), so we will have to be creative if we want to implement new solar projects there," she says.
"It is clear that we support the transition to sustainable energy. That said, we run a commercial business and all business cases must be viable. Therein lies our challenge."
As Deimel knows from her previous position as Head of Wind Development NL, solar projects can be implemented more quickly than wind projects. Even so, a great many agreements still have to be signed, for example with regard to stakeholder management, that are similar for wind and solar. This means that co-locating the two technologies is many times a great idea.
A good example of this is Haringvliet wind farm in the Netherlands. In consultation with a wide range of local stakeholders, Nuon/Vattenfall have been developing a wind farm here for many years. The wind farm's grid connection can however also be used by a solar farm. This is why last year, the development team actively started work on the development of a solar farm as well. Again, this involves close consultation with stakeholders.
Deimel is enthusiastic about these developments:
"We've also been granted a licence for a 12 MW battery, so it will not be long before we have virtually constant sustainable energy production. That's a fantastic development. These are the landscapes of the future."
This is not to say that combining wind farms with solar farms is always easy. Many existing wind farms are located on agricultural land, which does not always lend itself to expansion in the form of large-scale solar farms. In these situations, the use of the space between the wind turbines for solar panels can be the answer. In the case of a large wind farm, this can still generate tens of megawatts of solar power.
For new wind farms, however, Vattenfall is also investigating the possibilities for combining wind, solar and battery power. One of the main advantages of this combination, says Deimel, is the fact that part of the process is reversible. It is possible to remove all the solar panels and immediately return the landscape to how it looked originally. "To me, solar panels are a bit like crops," says Deimel. "They do affect your view, but you can see over their 1.5 m frames and they do not make any noise. The harvest: sustainable energy."
The market for solar energy is growing rapidly. Given the growing need for sustainable energy, this brings a wealth of opportunities with it. In this context, all types of generation will be required.
Renewable energy is actually still in its infancy. The European target for 2020 is that 20 percent of gross final energy consumption must be derived from renewable energy sources. In other words, stressed Deimel, we still have a long way to go.
"We must aim for 100 percent. The message to everyone is that we have to become accustomed to wind and solar power because it is here to stay – we need it. We are going to do things properly and we are going to do things in the best way we can, but it will have an impact on the environment. Thankfully, Vattenfall has given us the green light to focus all our efforts on it."
As well as the nineteen colleagues who are already working in the new unit, there are ten vacancies that have yet to be filled, and Deimel anticipates there will be more in the near future.
"The pipeline of potential projects in the various core countries is slowly but surely filling up, and once the projects are under way, we can press on quickly. We have the contacts, the projects, the plans and the ambitions, so we are serious players," says Deimel.
"However, developing the projects in a responsible way poses major challenges. We have to optimize integration and stakeholder consultation on the one hand, and the business case on the other. It is, and always will be, hard work, but this is what makes the work so enjoyable."