Ambitious plans are underway to revolutionize one of Europe's "blackest" energy locations, a complex of lignite power stations and mines in eastern Germany, into Europe's largest green power hub. LEAG, one of Germany's leading energy groups, envisions deploying cutting-edge long-duration energy storage (LDES) technology as part of this initiative. This pioneering project aims to replace the current 8GW of lignite-fired coal generation plants with up to 14GW of wind and solar power, 2-3GWh of storage, and 2GW of green hydrogen production. By doing so, LEAG believes it can meet up to 7% of Germany's total power needs, providing "pure 24/7 green baseload power."
Rainer Schiller, the project lead for stationary large-scale storage at LEAG Energy Cubes, emphasizes that the urgency of the German government's coal and lignite phase-out mandate by 2038 is a driving force behind this vast plan. Simply relying on wind and photovoltaic (PV) energy sources is insufficient to generate baseload power and ensure grid stability round the clock. According to Schiller, a complete rethinking of energy management and control is required to fill the void left by lignite power plants once they are phased out. This innovative approach necessitates the adoption of LDES technology.
LEAG proposes utilizing iron flow battery technology supplied by US-based company ESS as a crucial component of the green power hub. ESS and LEAG have already signed an agreement for ESS to deliver a 50MW/500MWh iron flow battery system to the Boxberg Power Plant site—the first fossil site of LEAG's complex slated for transformation. This iron flow battery will complement shorter-term lithium-ion batteries and hydrogen storage, ensuring energy availability even during longer durations. Stored energy can be converted back into power using fuel cells or turbines when needed. Schiller asserts that this comprehensive solution surpasses the alternatives, such as gas peaker plants, in terms of providing grid stability for a large-scale renewable generation fleet.
Alan Greenshields, ESS's Europe director, commends LEAG for developing a blueprint to transition large-scale fossil energy correctly. He emphasizes the importance of a mix of short-term storage, long-term storage, and hydrogen technologies in achieving full decarbonization and supporting grid functions. The commissioning of the Boxberg battery in 2027, pending final agreement and LEAG's investment decision, will mark one of the world's largest deployments of this technology. This milestone is expected to contribute to cost reductions, driving the advancement of renewable energy storage globally.
The transformation of the Boxberg hub alone is projected to cost approximately €500m ($541m), with the initial PV installations estimated to exceed €1bn. LEAG and its partners have committed an initial investment of €200m and are actively engaging with potential funding partners. To ensure a seamless transition away from coal and lignite, LEAG is exploring possible subsidies from the German government and the EU's Just Transition Fund. While subsidies may be necessary, the primary focus is on finding technical solutions to replace grid power and other essential services like district heating.