Interview with German Renewables Award Winners Jost Broichmann and Tobias Struck, WEMAG
At the end of November 2019, WEMAG in Hamburg was honoured with the German Renewables Award 2019 in the category ”Product Innovation of the Year”. Congratulations!
EEHH: What is WEMAG and what is your company all about? Which product was in the competition? Why did you think your product could make the cut?
Tobias Struck: “WEMAG is a regional energy supplier in western Mecklenburg and a pioneer of the energy revolution. We already knew in 2012 that three to four times more electricity would be generated here from wind and solar than would be consumed, which is why we started building large-scale battery storage in 2013. In 2017, we got to work on the WEMAG battery station as a further development, a battery storage system the size of a transformer station. It was designed to be suitable for both industry customers, grid operators as well as PV feed-ins."
Jost Broichmann: “After we put the prototypes into operation in Autumn 2018, we submitted the ‘WBS 500’ for the German Renewables Award in 2019. The idea is to distribute the energy storage in a similar manner to generation in the grid, thus ensuring uniform grid utilisation. The key here is in the software – in other words, the multi-layer control at station level and amalgamation as a virtual power plant. In this way, we can deliver peak capping, load-flow regulation and frequency stabilisation from a network of these kinds of stations. We believe that this combination of compact storage and innovative software was what won over the jury.”
EEHH: Where, how and to what purpose have you already implemented your multipurpose battery station? What contribution is your company making with this to the renewable energy industry in Germany?
Jost Broichmann: “The first projects with the WBS are already in place with customers in the research environment. In January 2020, a station was connected in Berlin for commercial vehicle electro-mobility. A further station will be used as a grid connection and buffer for a hydrogen storage project starting in April 2020. We are already planning the setup of stations for two grid operators and a PV farm this year.”
Tobias Struck: “In future, storage and renewable energy will form the backbone of our energy supply. Using battery storage with the size and functions of a transformer station, we have created the blueprint for the compact and grid-friendly power storage of the future, which we will see at many grid operators."
EEHH: The WBS 500 was developed in-house. That sounds like a resource-heavy undertaking. What was the investment volume, how many employees were involved in the project and how much time passed between the first prototypes and the market-ready systems?
Jost Broichmann: “Because WEMAG already had experience with the setup of storage systems and transformer stations, I was able to launch the project at the beginning of 2017 with a lean budget of less than one million euros. We had three to five colleagues in the core team. Some of the experts we were able to get externally, the software development was done by a partner company. We were able to draw on internal employees for measurement concepts, grid connection and procurement so that we could also keep our team lean during the project duration. We continued to build on the prototype until it was market ready because we built the storage units using installation engineering. This took a good year and a half.”
EEHH: Do you have any other pioneering projects in the pipeline? What are your hopes for the company in the future?
Tobias Struck: “We are currently planning the installation of up to 12 WBS systems per year in Germany. The most pioneering are projects such as load boosters for electromobility and buffer storage for renewable power generation companies."
Jost Broichmann: “In addition, we are also currently working on the networking of stations with each other in order to be able to reproduce the functions of a virtual power plant.”
EEHH: What is your assessment of the development of renewable energy sources in Germany? What opportunities and challenges do you see for the industry and your business location in North Germany?
Tobias Struck: “Renewable energies are the best option for a sustainable power supply in terms of economics and the environment. To be sure, we have to improve the level of acceptance to ensure broad-based support from the regions. However, the challenge lies with legislation. We urgently need sensible regulation that allows us to convert wind power into hydrogen at an affordable price. And one that helps ensure a profitable business model and creates jobs.”
Jost Broichmann: “We both have been driving electric cars for many years now and recognise that we can expect increasing electricity sales. When this comes for regional sources, then this naturally strengthens the regional economy. This is how you create sustainable, local economic cycles. This is why the expansion of the charging infrastructure must be pushed, just like the expansion of renewable generation.”