top of page

Energy storage and climate neutrality in the Baltic States

As Europe moves towards more renewable energy, the number of wind farms is growing rapidly and more and more electricity is also being generated from the sun. This means that there will be times when there will be a surplus of electricity and the excess will need to be stored or converted into a storable product that can be used as needed.

In the European Union (EU) countries, increasing attention is being paid to different energy storage solutions. In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, large battery parks are to be developed to help stabilise the local energy system and disconnect from the Russian grid. Converting energy into "green" hydrogen, which can then be used as an energy source in industry and transport, would also be a good solution for energy storage. In several EU countries, the development of battery parks and the deployment of hydrogen technologies are already receiving public support, as these solutions can provide much-needed flexibility to the energy system and will certainly play an important role in the future.

Energy storage issue to be resolved soon

Electricity supply systems will inevitably have to adapt to new conditions. Professor Gatis Bažbauers, Vice-Rector of Riga Technical University (RTU), highlights the main challenges that existing power systems will face. For example, if the infrastructure for wind power plants is developed, there may be a surplus of electricity in windy weather. In windless weather, on the other hand, there is a shortage of energy. Similar fluctuations occur with solar power generation. Therefore, to make the most of renewable energies, we need to store the energy produced by solar and wind.

This can be done in different ways. Of course, electricity is not so easy to store, but there are various batteries as well as mechanical devices that help to store energy. For example, we can use pumped storage plants, which, when electricity is cheap and plentiful, we use to pump water to an upper reservoir. In turn, when electricity is scarce and expensive, we pump the collected water down through turbines, as in a hydroelectric power station, and thus recover the stored energy.

Compressed air systems can also be used for storage, where we compress air and inject it underground at times when electricity is cheap. In times of electricity shortages or cost, we use the compressed air to pump it out through gas turbines and use the electricity for our own needs. But there are other ways we can use the electricity we have.

One of them is that we do not store electricity directly, but use it to generate heat in times of plenty, thus saving on fuel bills. Another popular solution, which is used in many countries and is also being worked on at RTU (Riga Techical University), is to divert excess electricity to hydrogen production. In electrolysis plants, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen produced can then be used in fuel cells for various purposes. For example, they power car engines, as well as a variety of equipment that generates heat and electricity.

Hydrogen can also be converted into synthetic methane and consumed as natural gas, or synthetic or electric fuels can be produced to replace petrol and diesel in transport. Hydrogen production and use is one of the latest trends, which is why RTU researchers are working hard on it. Research is focused on two main areas: how to improve the electrolysis process used to produce hydrogen, and how to use the resulting hydrogen most efficiently in electricity, heating and transport systems. The opportunities in these areas are vast."

Armands Gūtmanis, Chairman of the Board of the Latvian Climate Neutrality Cluster 2050, believes that the topic of energy storage needs immediate attention. This summer, the European Commission issued recommendations to Member States on energy storage, which stressed that EU Member States should strengthen targets and related policies to promote the uptake of energy storage when updating their National Energy and Climate Plans 2030. Member States are also invited to develop specific Hydrogen Strategies for safer business planning and to support research and innovation in energy storage, in particular in long-term energy storage and storage solutions that blend electricity with other energy carriers.

Hydrogen production and consumption in the Baltics are still low

Kaspars Avots, Chief Operating Officer of Baltic Hydrogen Group, outlines the current landscape of hydrogen technology development and use in the Baltic States. In Lithuania, there are currently two large industrial hydrogen producers, Orlen and Achema, which use hydrogen in their technological processes. Kaspars Avots, however, stresses one important nuance: "These companies are grey, i.e. they produce hydrogen from natural gas, which releases carbon dioxide (CO2) that they do not capture. In contrast, the whole future of hydrogen use and the industry is based on 'green' hydrogen, i.e. it must be produced from renewable resources - solar, hydro or wind. These industries in Lithuania will therefore be forced to go green. However, it has not yet been heard that they are planning to start extracting hydrogen by electrolysis. It may also be mentioned that there is a relatively active local hydrogen association in Lithuania, but its members are more focused on the technology, its creation and development, and do not really engage with the hydrogen producers and potential consumers themselves."

Looking at our northern neighbour, Kaspars Avots reveals a different perspective: "Estonia is very publicly visible and active in the hydrogen field. They have many technology development products, they have a company called Stargate Hydrogen, which is building an electrolysis plant to produce hydrogen. I spoke to the head of this company in Brussels not long ago and he said that the planned work was going according to plan. They also have an idea to use hydrogen as a fuel for 20 properly equipped taxis in the city. The Estonians are developing technology in general, for example, building hydrogen-powered drones and, in the next few years, they will have completed some ferries to be used for traffic between the mainland and the islands. As the distance to be covered is short, they will be fuelled by pure hydrogen. Prototypes of the ferries are under development and the State is also supporting these initiatives. These are concrete projects that will be implemented and it can be said that Estonians are the leaders in hydrogen technology in the Baltic States."

Speaking about the situation in the development of hydrogen technologies in our country, Kaspars Avots believes that there is a tendency in Latvia to discover something new in the field of science: "However, the only thing directly related to hydrogen is the compressors developed and recently patented by the Ventspils University College with a unique technology. The compressor is a very important, complex and sensitive element in the hydrogen production process, as the hydrogen produced must be compressed to a pressure of up to 750 atmospheres. Compression takes place in several cascades and is a very important step in the entire hydrogen production process.

In one respect, Latvia is ahead of its two neighbours - we have the only hydrogen filling station in the Baltics. For example, the Estonians put their light hydrogen cars on a diesel trailer and take them to Latvia to fill up, and then take them back. It is true that this is 'grey' hydrogen for now, but there is every chance of greening it in the future.

Our company plans to produce "green" hydrogen from renewable energy sources - solar, hydro and wind. As far as we know, Latvenergo is also planning hydrogen production. The fact is that the more hydrogen we produce, the more it will be consumed, and therefore the cheaper it will become. Since it is very expensive to transport hydrogen over long distances, hydrogen production facilities should be located directly at renewable energy parks. In the future, as part of the development of the so-called hydrogen backbone, there are plans to modify the gas infrastructure to allow the hydrogen produced to be exported to the West. There is already strong demand in Germany, but by 2030 hydrogen will certainly be an exportable product. If the industry develops more here, it will also be needed locally."

The need to recycle batteries

Kaspars Kalviškis, Head of Bosch in the Baltics, points out the potential and challenges of electro-mobility in relation to energy storage solutions, raw materials for battery production and battery recycling: "The share of electric cars is growing unevenly in different countries, but it is clear that this process has started and will continue at an accelerating pace. Projections show that within the next 10-15 years, electric cars could already account for a significant share of all cars on the road.

The advantage of electric cars is that they produce zero emissions and, as long as they use green electricity generated from renewable sources, everything is fine. But these vehicles need batteries (accumulators) to store the energy, and the number of energy storage units needed increases with the number of electric cars. And batteries have a finite lifespan - the world's biggest electric car manufacturers estimate it at around eight years or 160 000 kilometres. Of course, this is also influenced by driving and climate conditions, the car owner's usage habits, charging patterns and cycles. But as a result, the rapid growth in the number of electric cars will lead to a similarly rapid increase in the number of batteries in these vehicles, with a lag of around eight years.

The Ministry of Climate and Energy looks forward to industry initiatives

Gunārs Valdmanis, Director of the Energy Market Department at the Ministry of Climate and Energy, believes that it will be possible to talk about more hydrogen production and use in the coming years. The Ministry has identified the development of renewable energy production capacity as a key prerequisite for such a development. This would allow surplus electricity to build up in Latvia, which could also serve as a raw material for the production of "green" hydrogen.

"At the moment, we are very interested and ready to respond to industry initiatives," said Gunārs Valdmanis. "Starting with individual developers who have already announced their intentions to develop such production in their first projects. But in parallel, we are looking for a clear vision of the optimal business model from them, as we have identified a number of possible development paths. Firstly, there is already strong interest from the transport sector in locating hydrogen production and refuelling infrastructure in specific locations - mainly close to production facilities, as well as on-street refuelling stations. Secondly, there is also growing interest among industry in the possible development of hydrogen infrastructure that would bring the feedstock directly to the consumer through existing or emerging networks. However, such a demand from the industry has not yet been sufficiently articulated. We are waiting for a clear, convincing assessment of business sustainability, an opinion from the industry. Therefore, as a ministry, we are not yet saying exactly where hydrogen will be used and what the possible future applications of hydrogen are, because it is clear that different sectors will have different preferences, and one of the most important tasks will be to reach a compromise that is acceptable to all parties involved. This would provide a solution for the direction in which hydrogen technology applications should evolve. We have heard that the transport sector, in particular heavy transport, is claiming to be the first industry that could successfully adopt hydrogen.

The Baltic States are well on the way to adopting hydrogen, energy storage technologies and can look forward to creating a new economic sector.


bottom of page