If one is going to sit through ten and a half hours of flight time and lose a night’s sleep, there had better be good reason for it. For members of the Energy Systems and Policy Analysis group from the University of Birmingham, an excellent reason was the kick-off meeting for our Newton Institutional Links project, funded by the Department of Business Energy and Industrial Strategy. For those of us making the journey, this was an opportunity to once again connect with our Mexican project partners, the Instituto de Electricidad y Energías Límpias (INEEL), in person.
Led by Dr Jonathan Radcliffe, Reader at the University of Birmingham, our Newton Institutional Links project, ‘Energy storage prioritisation in Mexico’, will involve a feasibility study where researchers investigate the ways that energy is used in different communities and assess the potential impact that using energy storage technologies could have on issues of health, social and economic development. Through the use of multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA), the researchers will create a list of possible energy storage options for a case study area. By producing two documents, that cover the technical aspects and the policy and regulatory recommendations respectively, it is hoped that this process can be repeated in other areas in the future.
During the first day of the meeting, a large number of staff from INEEL were present to hear Dr Jonathan Radcliffe deliver an overview of policy and innovation in energy storage from a UK perspective, also covering major projects and initiatives from the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage. The presentation generated a great deal of enthusiastic discussion between attendees, while INEEL’s in depth knowledge of Mexico created some interesting questions for the following day.
Mexico – an energy system in transition
During the first day, it became clear that the launch of our new project is very timely, given the current ambitious direction of the Mexican energy system and the country’s potential for achieving a higher penetration of renewable energy. During the afternoon David Castrejón Botello, Thermal Engineering Project Manager at INEEL, gave an informative overview of the Mexican energy system, which is currently in a state of transition. New regulatory and institutional frameworks adopted have introduced open competition in power generation and supply. The Mexican Government is focused on attracting new capital and technologies to areas of the energy sector that require updating and renewal. Underpinning these reforms is the objective of promoting energy sector development with social responsibility.
Another of our colleagues from INEEL, José María Malo Tamayo, presented on the challenges and opportunities for energy storage across Mexico in the context of major electricity sector reforms. José identified that during the growth of solar energy in Mexico (the third clean energy project auctions have just taken place), energy storage could provide highly valuable frequency response services, helping to maintain the energy system frequency. However, José mentioned that for storage to play a significant role, the Mexican Government must recognise storage as an asset of generation, loading, transmission and distribution. He highlighted the requirement for regulatory barriers to be removed so that energy storage can monetize different services, such as providing frequency response or operating reserve. José noted that if Mexico is to achieve its long-term target of generating 50% of its electricity from ‘clean’ sources by 2050, it is highly likely that renewables will play a part, making the case for energy storage even stronger.
Shortlisting case studies
With jet lag’s firm grip on our body clocks, it was an early rise on the second day for another trip to INEEL’s offices. During the morning, we formed a smaller working group with members of the INEEL team to discuss possible options for selecting an area in Mexico as a case study. Using INEEL’s excellent knowledge of different experiences with energy across Mexico, the group identified a set of geographical locations that could serve as a case study.
The group generated an initial set of criteria that we will use to assess the potential of the locations to be a case study area. There was further discussion of the opportunities for energy storage in different areas and communities. For example, in areas where communities do not have access to tap water, energy storage could assist with pumping water from wells. This could prevent the contamination that occurs when people enter the wells on foot during the dry season, which may result in some positive impact on the health these communities
After a highly productive morning session, colleagues from INEEL led a tour of one of their laboratories, where a significant amount of work is happening with fuel cells and fuel cell membranes.
During lunch, we were fortunate enough to meet with the INEEL Director General, Dr Diego Arjona Argüelles. Dr Arjona took an interest in our project and gave us some further insight into the Mexican electricity sector and some extra information regarding a number of the potential case study areas that we identified.
Often the most challenging part of a research collaboration can be defining and agreeing on next steps. However, by the second day, we were not short of ideas of how to take the research project forward. For INEEL, the next step is to flesh out the initial set of possible areas for a case study during the coming weeks. In parallel, INEEL will also begin to plan the second workshop for the project, likely to be held in July 2018 in Mexico which will bring stakeholders from the case study areas together to discuss the criteria used for the MCDA.
The University of Birmingham will identify a multi-disciplinary group of stakeholders that have an interest in our research, as well as carrying out a desk-based search for similar projects to understand if we can learn any lessons from them. We will then reconvene with INEEL and start planning for our second workshop in Mexico.
This blog has been written by Omar Saeed, project manager of the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage at the University of Birmingham.