Vestas taps car battery know-how for wind power storage

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - The world's largest wind turbine maker Vestas VWS.CO is tapping into experience from the car battery industry to try to address the challenge of using erratic wind and solar energy to meet a growing share of power demand.

FILE PHOTO: Maintenance work is done on a Vestas wind turbine (R) at a wind energy park near Heide, Germany, September 9, 2010. REUTERS/Christian Charisius

Energy storage is becoming increasingly important as production of renewable energy rises, because the wind might not blow or the sun shine during the peak hours when most consumers turns on their lights and appliances.

In order to bring down cost of renewable energy and help grid operators balance intermittent output, Vestas last year said it would work to combine wind, solar and battery storage technology.

As part of this, it invested 10 million euros ($12 million) in battery manufacturer Northvolt, which aims to build Europe's biggest battery cell plant with the backing of investors such as Volkswagen-owned VOWG_p.DE truckmaker Scania.

“We can piggyback on all the research they do with batteries for cars and get an excellent industry battery at the same time,” Vestas chairman Bert Nordberg told Reuters.

Vestas is partnering with Sweden’s Northvolt, headed by former Tesla executive Peter Carlsson, to develop a lithium-ion battery for power plants of the future.

Battery costs have traditionally been high, but the technology is becoming increasingly viable as automakers such as BMW BMWG.DE, Daimler DAIGn.DE, Volkswagen and Volvo Car Group 0175.HK ramp up electric car production.

Nordberg said the investment into Northvolt meant Vestas could demand development and research into the kind of battery storage it is interested in, and would also be able to place people there.

Vestas is also working with bigger players such as U.S. electric carmaker Tesla TSLA.O, whose batteries it plans to use in the world's first utility-scale project for this technology to store power from both wind and solar sources.

“The output from solar and wind is very intermittent and we need to even that out,” Nordberg said.

Nordberg is part of a Swedish trio, which also includes CEO Anders Runevad and finance chief Marika Frederiksson, that has turned Vestas around and, helped by cost cutting, lifted the company’s operating margin to industry leading levels.

Vestas will continue to make acquisitions within storage and hybrid energy solutions, he said, but declined to say how much it might spend or which targets it was considering.

“The idea is that we should be a technology company, we are not trying to move into buying and selling wind parks,” he said.

Reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Mark Potter