1 October 2018
“This battery park is a test case for the future”
Limburg is forging ahead with investments in renewable energy. LRM, the Limburgse Investeringsmaatschappij, is the driving force behind a number of projects that are turning Limburg into a pioneer in the field of sustainability. The Battery Park at Terhills is a good example of this. It was created together with ING in Belgium.
Sustainability is evolving from ‘nice to have’ towards a ‘licence to operate’
- Filip Indigne, commercial director of ING Laese: “Nowadays we are seeing a strong evolution in more and more companies towards sustainability as part of their strategy, leading to product innovation for example. We believe that sustainable businesses are the best-placed to survive. Sustainability is evolving from ‘nice to have’ towards a ‘licence to operate’.”
- Project cost: 11 million. ING is leasing the batteries until 2025.
“Three years ago we made a strategic choice in favour of environmental efforts,” Stijn Bijnens tells us. “That led to a climate investment plan that aims to help realise the Flemish climate objectives. We are doing this because climate change is the challenge for the future and projects like this are therefore more than socially relevant. Certainly as a government body we need to lead by example. But also – and this is not unimportant – because there is money to be made. At the end of the day, we also want to make a profit.”
Pioneering spirit becomes international benchmark
The notable thing about LRM’s climate investments is the pioneering spirit that they reveal, the courage to make the difference. Stijn Bijnens: “We want to work in a way that has an impact. Hence, in our organisation we have a culture of thinking out of the box. Saying ‘that’s not possible’ is banned.” When thinking about potential projects, LRM therefore didn’t look at what was already happening on the land, but thought a few steps ahead. In May 2018, that led to the opening of the Tesla battery park in the Terhills SME zone (Dilsen-Stokkem), and to the construction of the biggest solar park in the Benelux region in Lommel, which will be completed in the summer of 2019. These two projects will become an international benchmark – the solar park due to its scale and price, which ended up being 30% lower than budgeted, and the battery park because of its unique and innovative software for balancing the electricity network in real time.
Test case for the future
“The battery park is a unique project in Flanders and a test case for the future,” says Bijnens. “Its uniqueness lies in its direct connection to Elia’s distribution network to balance the electricity network (i.e. to ensure that production and consumption on the network remain in perfect balance). It is sustainable in the sense that energy loss will become a thing of the past, unlike in gas-fired power stations that are often used at present. When there is too much electricity, they just open their chimneys, which is a pure waste of energy.”
When the neighbouring Terhills holiday park opens in 2020, the battery park will become part of a micro-grid for the park, powered by solar panels.
A project of this nature obviously needs to be financed in order to get off the ground. Stijn Bijnens: “With a physical asset like this you ask yourself the question, as an investor: what are we going to finance ourselves and where will we find support from the banks? ING in Belgium was the most responsive bank, even if, from their perspective, it was not an obvious move because it is so new. They couldn’t compare it with anything because there is no track record. ING in Belgium went along with our story and this ‘sporting dossier’, as I call it, because the bank itself also believes that sustainability is the future and these are investments that have to happen in order to make progress.”
Commercial Director of ING Lease, Filip Indigne, shares this view: "Thanks to our years of expertise with climate projects, we have been able to realise this innovative but high-risk project. We now know the market very well and can therefore also assess the risk properly. LRM’s Terhills battery park offered us a good opportunity to learn more about a fast-growing market.”
“Our lease portfolio now comprises 15% sustainable assets, such as batteries, solar panels or wind turbines. We started on this in around 2010. At that point it was mainly about solar panels for businesses. Since then, we have built up the largest portfolio of sustainable assets in Belgium. ING also has the only lease company in Belgium with a dedicated manager for sustainability, an individual with a technical mindset who knows the market well. It is typical of lease that we have lots of contact with factories producing solar panels for example, and with the various regulators. Our knowledge of the market therefore really helps the customer move forward,” says Indigne.
Financial and social return
For LRM this project is a good investment that will pay for itself. “Otherwise, of course, we wouldn’t start it,” laughs Stijn Bijnens: “In very concrete terms, from 2020 onwards, thanks to the micro-grid, we will make major savings on the holiday park’s electricity bill. The exact financial return is impossible to determine because it depends on the development of the auction prices at Elia and on market forces. Will it be joined by other battery parks, for example? It is also a good investment because this solution helps to solve the energy supply problem. After all, to date, batteries are the greenest solution for balancing.”