A pioneering concept to provide remote outlying areas with access to reliable renewable energy has led to the creation of a new business and opened up a new market for sustainable energy technology.
The technology was developed through the RENERSTA project, run through Eureka’s Eurogia+ cluster. “Our aim was to develop a highly reliable sustainable solution to produce, store and deliver electricity for isolated sites or in areas where the power grid is not reliable enough,” explains Jean-Marie Bourgeais, Founder and Technical Director of Powidian, the company that was spun off from Airbus as a direct result of the RENERSTA project. “We saw a clear commercial opportunity here, because existing solutions for, say, remote islands involved diesel generators, which come with high operational and maintenance costs, short live cycles and of course pollution.”
The technology is ready and the market is there; the key to the future is investment and finding the right partners
Relying on renewable energy sources however presents its own set of problems, such intermittent production according to availability of wind or sun, which means that energy production is either wasted or is not sufficient. The key to the success of the RENERSTA project has been developing an autonomous renewable energy solution that eliminates these issues.
Energy storage innovation
Running the project through the Eurogia+ cluster enabled the Airbus team, which led the project, to connect with major industrial companies like SAFT and AEGPower Solution. The project partners from both participating countries benefited from funding: in France the Direction Générale des Entreprises (DGE) supported the French participation, the German part of the project was funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). “Together we were able to realise a concrete demonstrator that worked perfectly,” says Bourgeais. “And because this solution has been developed by a team of strong reputable companies, we are able to go to the market with confidence.”
The finalised concept combines renewable energy sources with multiple power storage technologies. For example, LI-Ion batteries can be used for short storage periods (up to a couple of days), while hydrogen batteries can be used for longer storage (for weeks or months.) The concept can be easily transported and deployed on isolated sites to provide energy for, say, telecommunications, rural electrification or even humanitarian missions. Other potential markets including border protection, disaster recovery and military mobility, and estimated CO2 savings have been put at 45 tonnes per year for a 2kW site.
Following completion of the project in 2014, Airbus created Powidian, a spin-off company to focus on developing and marketing this novel renewable energy storage technology. “The core business of Airbus is planes, helicopters and space,” explains Bourgeais. “This is very specific, and in order to be recognised as a leading energy tech company and be truly agile, Airbus saw that we needed to be a spin off. At the same time, people know that POWIDIAN comes from Airbus, and recognise that we are a serious business with strong technology behind us.”
As a pioneer in this field Powidian has been assessing the market, and increasingly sees itself as a provider of reliable renewable electricity. The long term objective is to partner up with major providers such as EDF in order to deliver sustainable electricity solutions to islands, remote areas or buildings where coverage is bad. In this way, Powidian will be able to provide solutions at scale and at prices that would be attractive.
“The technology is ready and the market is there,” says Bourgeais. “The key to the future is investment and finding the right partners. Revenue is coming on line and we have signed contracts with the likes of EDF and SNCF, and provide electricity for a number of buildings. Two years ago there were just two of us at Powidian; now we have 20 employees.”