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Russian Railways is exploring a first-of-its-kind energy storage strategy that could open the door for more renewables on the sprawling railway grid.

Energy Storage

A New Energy Storage Solution For A Massive Railway System

Russian Railways is exploring a first-of-its-kind energy storage strategy that could open the door for more renewables on the sprawling railway grid.

The third longest railway system in the world could be on the verge of an energy storage makeover. That would be Russian Railways, which sprawls over 85.5 thousand kilometers. A little over half that length is electrified, and if all goes well with a new R&D project, the little could turn into a lot.

That’s not necessarily a gigantic win for climate action, considering that Russia hasn’t exactly been leading the vanguard on renewable energy. However, more and better railway electrification at least opens the door for more renewables, so let’s take a closer look and see what’s going on.

Enel Group Meets Russian Railways

The new energy storage project is a joint venture between Russian Railways (RZhD) and the aggressively renewable energy company Enel Group.

As described by Enel, the partnership will focus on a first-of-its-kind use for energy storage in railway systems. The aim is to develop a relatively low cost strategy for improving system operations without getting into more expensive grid upgrades.

So, what does this mean? Something exotic, like flow batteries? Power-to-gas (aka hydrogen)? How about the concentrating solar + hydrogen combo?

What Kind Of Energy Storage?

So many questions! For an answer CleanTechnica reached out to Enel, which provided this backgrounder (breaks added for readability):

The partnership will start off with a testing phase, which will run for up to three months and is expected to begin by the end of the year, involving the installation of a single battery in RZhD’s laboratory where the technology can perform in a controlled environment.

The lithium batteries, with a minimum capacity of 10 MWh, can be activated automatically through Enel X’s software during times of peak demand with the aim to help respond to the growing energy demand of railway systems whose faster, more powerful and larger trains could be slowed in some instances to avoid putting strain on power grids.

Whelp, there’s your answer. Lithium-ion strikes again:

The batteries, once installed along certain railway sections, will help to allow for faster and more efficient train service, boosting the volume of train activity.

Enel will couple the storage system with regenerative brake technology, which uses the energy generated when a train is braking to charge the batteries where it will be stored for later use thereby helping to decrease the railways’ overall energy consumption.

Here’s more on Enel’s energy management and “virtual power plant” technology:

Enel X’s intelligent software controls platform enables real-time optimisation of energy management and revolutionises the way electricity is generated, stored and consumed, providing an end-to-end solution that delivers value across the entire life cycle of a project.

The innovative platform and cloud-based analytics are scalable and can address the needs of any power market segment, delivering value across a broad range of storage applications.

Enel X’s platform provides the analytics and control needed to aggregate energy management across multiple facilities, creating an online virtual power plant that operates more efficiently and multiplies savings.

So, don’t hold your breath for results, but stay tuned because we’ll circle back around sometime later this year to see how things are going.

Russia And Renewables

Speaking of Russia’s renewable energy profile, the country does have a large hydropower sector, and it is actively seeking ways of extracting more juice from its existing hydro dams.

In a conversation last year, Russia’s First Deputy Energy Minister Aleksy Teklser also told me that Russia can meet all of its energy needs from fossil and nuclear fuels, but the country is dipping its toes in the wind and solar fields in order to establish a domestic supply chain.

The stated aim would be to provide for wind and solar jobs in the manufacturing sector, with the primary goal of growing the country’s exports.

Generating a significant amount of zero-emission electricity comes in second, but the numbers add up. Mr. Teksler told me that an estimated 6 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity would be needed to support a robust domestic supply chain. Anything over that would be icing on the cake.

There’s a long way to go but things seem to be heading in the right direction. A pilot scale wind-diesel hybrid setup is expected to be approved for construction in Russia’s Far East region, which currently relies on a fleet of small diesel generators. If the system meets cost and energy savings expectations, more will be on the way.

That’s nothing. Enel is also negotiating for a pair of new wind farm projects in Russia totaling 291 megawatts.

On the solar side, solar capacity in Russia has been creeping upwards, but the really big news could come from Russia’s solar module manufacturing sector, which is poised to introduce a new generation of low cost solar cells.

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Monino Railway Station (cropped) by Mika Stetsovski via flickr, creative commons license.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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