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Demonstrating circular economy business models in the solar power sector

Are storage-as-a-service models that use second-life batteries for a commercial end user economically and technically feasible? Yes, says an EU-funded project, demonstrating it at a photovoltaic (PV) plant site in Belgium.

Climate Change and Environment
Energy

As the PV and electric vehicle (EV) markets grow and their demand for raw materials increases, what happens to the PV panels and batteries whose use life has come to an end? Aware that they currently enter the waste stream and get recycled or disposed, essentially creating a new environmental challenge, the EU-funded CIRCUSOL project sought a different solution. It brought together 15 partners from 7 European countries to develop and demonstrate product-service system (PSS) business models for circular economy in the solar power sector. In CIRCUSOL’s PSS models, a supplier provides solar power generation and storage to a user as a service. Although the PVs and batteries are installed at the user’s site, the supplier remains their owner and must therefore decide if they should be installed somewhere else or sent for recycling when their use life at the site ends. The PSS business models benefit the user by reducing their initial investment, the environment by reducing waste, and the supplier by providing diversified, recurring revenue. CIRCUSOL has validated these models in five real-life commercial demonstrators, one of which is the Cloverleaf PV plant in Heusden-Zolder, Belgium.

Storage-as-a-service

The Cloverleaf demonstrator site is at an existing EV charging facility that already has a PV installation provided by CIRCUSOL project partner Futech under a power purchase agreement. Next to the 2 MW PV plant, the site includes a shopping centre with a restaurant, a fuel station, a covered parking for acclimatised trucks that can connect when parked and a charging spot for EVs. CIRCUSOL aimed to demonstrate both the economic and technical feasibility of a storage-as-a-service model using second-life batteries for a commercial end user. Under the power purchase agreement, Futech – as the investor – remains the owner of the PV plant, and is also responsible for maintaining it. The shopping centre owner in turn pays a monthly fee for the electricity consumed that is much lower than grid electricity prices. The aim being to increase electricity self-consumption at the Cloverleaf site, a storage component was included in the agreement. Therefore, to decide on optimal battery size, Futech studied consumption changes at the site since the installation of a 12-supercharger EV charging spot in 2017. As reported in a ‘pv magazine’ article, consumption increased from 22.8 % to 45.4 % by 2020. The site’s favourable location near two motorways has led to plans to install additional DC fast-charging stations, the news item reports. As a result, Futech decided to integrate a small 84 kWh second-life battery system originating from the automotive industry, with the possibility of extending battery capacity in the future. “An increase in self-consumption level, caused on the one hand by installing EV chargers and on the other hand by the integration of a second-life battery, allows the facility owner to purchase a fairly high amount of electricity from Futech at a rate that is approximately 30% lower than buying it from the grid. Futech in turn benefits from the fact that a larger share of the PV production can be offered to the facility owner at a significantly higher rate than when it would be injected into the grid, where prices are typically very uncertain,” the news item states. CIRCUSOL (Circular business models for the solar power industry) ends in November 2022. For more information, please see: CIRCUSOL project website

Keywords

CIRCUSOL, electric vehicle, EV, photovoltaic, PV, second-life battery, power, storage, circular economy, solar power, storage-as-a-service

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