Charging up Europe’s battery ecosystem with a Business Accelerator Programme
Deep in a suburb in the north of the Netherlands, a block of polystyrene the size of a car is lowered by a crane into a garden.
Inside the polystyrene sits of tank of water that works as a heat battery, storing energy when local electricity is cheap, and heating the home with its own supply when grid electricity is at its most expensive. Once placed into a dug-out hole in the garden, the battery will work out of sight for years to come, heating a family with low-carbon energy stored underneath their feet.
Developed by Borg Energy, a Dutch SME, this is one of the first examples of combining energy management software with heat pumps in a residential setting. And it was made possible by the Storage of Energy & Power Systems (STEPS) Business Support Programme.
Funded by the European Union through Interreg North West Europe, the Programme gave Europe’s most promising battery startups access to knowledge and capital to test innovative battery solutions in previously unfeasible contexts.
Dutch startup Borg Energy Storage used STEPS to test its garden-based underwater storage system in a low-income neighbourhood, with the support of the housing association WoonFriesland.
“The STEPS programme gave us the opportunity to implement our prototypes in a low cash flow situation that would have otherwise been impossible”, said Merlijn van Selm, R&D Manager at Borg during the STEPS programme. “The extra budget gave us the opportunity to access experts and organisations beyond just a networking context”.
Before the Programme, participants had high-tech solutions they hadn’t been able to test… Supporting them to turn proofs of concept into tested technologies helped them to advance their Technology and Business Readiness Level, allowing them to test their business assumptions, eliminate models that didn’t work and pointing them towards scalable business opportunities.
– Rolf Bastiaanssen, Lead for Local Energy Systems
Testing new ways to deliver storage in the STEPS Business Support Programme
Borg was part of a class of 49 SMEs, scale-ups, and startups that graduated from the STEPS Business Support Programme in the past four years. Supported by some of Europe’s leading experts on battery innovation, they received knowledge, training, and funding to test their battery innovations in real-world environments.
Borg was one of 19 businesses that demonstrated their battery innovation in a real-life environment through ‘testbeds’ funded through the Support Programme. From mobile hydrogen generators to roadside solar-powered microstations, the Programme piloted cutting-edge technologies in real-life settings often for the first time.
Matchmaking was a central component of the Programme. Matchmaking events across North West Europe brought together SMEs from across the value chain to find common areas of work to advance together.
“The Programme aimed to test solutions with a potential market across North West Europe. Bringing together potential business partners from across the region encouraged the expansion of these technologies to new markets,” said Tom Cornelissen, Senior EU Project Manager at Oost NL, the lead partner for STEPS.
By the end, participating SMEs had all made meaningful steps to improve both their Technology Readiness Level and Business Readiness Level, as measured by Bax & Company’s Readiness Level methodology.
“Energy storage is increasingly important for the regions of Gelderland and Overijssel we serve,” said Cornelissen. “Business development is one of the important challenges to realising their storage strategies. STEPS gave SMEs the chance to work on business development by testing their product concepts in real-life settings”.
Bax & Company’s Energy Team provided management support for the STEPS Business Programme. “Before the Programme, participants had high-tech solutions they hadn’t been able to test,” said Rolf Bastiaanssen, Lead for Local Energy Systems.
“Supporting them to turn proofs of concept into tested technologies helped them to advance their Technology and Business Readiness Level, allowing them to test their business assumptions, eliminate models that didn’t work and pointing them towards scalable business opportunities”.
Success stories from the programme
Elestor test first field pilots for hydrogen batteries
Elestor is a Dutch startup developing large-scale energy storage using Hydrogen Bromine flow batteries.
One of the biggest challenges for small companies working on Hydrogen Bromine technology is obtaining safety audits and certification to carry out testing.
Using funding and support from STEPS, Elestor was able to install and pilot a 50kW battery with 250kWh storage capacity, connected to the grid at IPKW.
Elestor now aims to connect its pilot battery to a solar PV array on-site, taking one step closer to a fully operational model for large-scale hydrogen storage.
Borg tests business models for heat batteries in low-income housing
Borg is a Dutch startup that has developed first-of-a-kind underground thermal energy storage. Placing a 4000-litre water tank under the ground, Borg’s batteries can store heat for a whole week in winter. Coupled with a smart energy system that optimises use patterns for energy costs, the batteries significantly reduce energy bills for residents.
Money and support from STEPS allowed them to test the technology in ‘low-cash flow’ scenarios, testing the business model for providing these batteries for those who would struggle to pay the initial expense of the battery but would benefit from the heating savings.
Working with the housing association WoonFriesland, Borg implemented a battery pilot in the back garden of a house, testing the retrofit business model. The test helped Borg understand how its technology can address energy poverty scenarios.
Volta Energy tests mobile hydrogen power with first prototype through STEPS
Green mobile energy provider Volta used STEPS funding to build its first prototype for a mobile Hydrogen generator.
Prior to STEPS, Volta’s solar-powered generators only had the option of a biodiesel backup generator for periods when solar power wasn’t operating.
Following analysis supported by STEPS partners TU Darmstadt and Ghent University, Volta built its first mobile solar and hydrogen mobile system and tested it in the IPKW Cleantech Campus.
ZEBRA tests remote control energy management for storage
Belgian energy management software startup ZEBRA builds systems specialised for renewable energy projects.
Before STEPS, ZEBRA focussed on urban use cases that could be controlled close to the site. Through the Business Support Programme, ZEBRA partnered with fellow STEPS partner, mobile power and light supplier Locquet to pilot its first remote control use case, managing the solar/diesel mix of a remote generator for a telecommunications pole.
The modelling carried out through the STEPS pilot has helped to position ZEBRA for the growing mobile energy market, improving business readiness by expanding their potential customer base.
Learn more about the accelerator programme for battery startups
Get in touch with Rolf to learn more about the project and explore possibilities.