A leading German energy group has announced plans to create a clean energy hub at what today is an area of coal mines and coal-fired power stations in the eastern part of the country.

The strategy from LEAG (Lausitz Energie Kraftwerke AG) envisions what the company calls a “pure green baseload” complex. LEAG on June 15 said the collection of generation stations could have as much as 14 GW of capacity from wind and solar power, along with as much as 3 GWh of energy storage, and 2 GW of green hydrogen production.

LEAG on Thursday said the company and its partners plan to initially invest €200 million ($219 million) with further support anticipated from additional investors and stakeholders. Among the project’s backers is Breakthrough Energy, a U.S.-based energy group founded by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Other utilities are exploring installing thermal energy storage at retired or soon-to-be-retired coal-fired power plants, taking advantage of existing transmission infrastructure. Xcel Energy has discussed installing molten salt energy storage at its Hayden Generating Station in northwest Colorado, where two units are scheduled for closure in the next five years.

The German Aerospace Center, or Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR), has for the past several years been looking at how coal-fired plants could be repurposed with energy storage.

A report from Sandia National Laboratories estimates that each major utility that has operated coal-fired units could save about $100 million annually using thermal energy storage sited in former coal plants. The strategy would help meet both economic goals along with regulatory requirements.

Energy Storage

The energy storage component of the German project, utilizing iron-based long duration energy storage (LDES) technology from ESS, would begin with LEAG and ESS joining to build a 50-MW/500-MWh iron flow battery system at the Boxberg Power Plant site. The energy storage system would be commissioned in 2027.

The Boxberg station is a 2,575-MW coal-fired facility owned by LEAG. The plant, first commissioned in 1971, includes four steam turbine units—two with 500 MW of capacity, one with 675 MW, and one with 900 MW.

Rainer Schiller, the project lead for stationary large-scale storage at LEAG Energy Cubes—the virtual power plant arm of LEAG—said the plan announced today is driven by the German government’s directive for a phase-out of coal and lignite by no later than 2038. Most power plant operators in Germany have said they will retire their coal-fired generating units by 2030.

“A key requirement for our transformation into Germany’s Green Powerhouse is the deployment of cost-effective Long-Duration Energy Storage. We are energized to demonstrate the value of iron flow battery technology at scale,” said Thorsten Kramer, CEO of LEAG, in a news release. “The Energy Resilience Leadership Group and Breakthrough Energy have provided an ideal framework to drive rapid technology development and deployment to meet emissions goals as soon as possible.”

“We look forward to partnering with LEAG to develop the model for utilities and communities worldwide transitioning from coal to clean, renewable energy,” said Eric Dresselhuys, CEO of ESS. “The deployment of renewables and long-duration energy storage will not only deliver reliable, clean energy to effectively replace the baseload power currently provided by coal, it will deliver economic opportunity and a cleaner environment for Germany.”

Leadership Group

LEAG and ESS have joined the Energy Resilience Leadership Group (ERLG), a multi-stakeholder initiative led by Breakthrough Energy and Siemens Energy that brings together corporate CEOs, political leaders, financial institutions, and startups to advance energy technology.

The ERLG was launched at the 2023 Munich Security Conference, held in February of this year, “with the goal to enhance Europe’s energy resilience by rapidly bringing emerging climate technologies to scale,” according to the group. ERLG works to develop partnerships among startups and other corporates entities to work toward deploying commercially viable energy projects within 24 months.

The project at Boxberg is among those the ERLG network is supporting.

“We are pleased to support a long-term strategic relationship between energy and technology experts LEAG and ESS through the Energy Resilience Leadership Group,” said Philipp Offenberg, Senior Manager, Europe at Breakthrough Energy. “Delivering green baseload power thanks to scalable, long-duration energy storage will not only solve a major challenge to decarbonization. It will also enhance Europe’s energy resilience, because less natural gas will be needed for backup power generation in the future.”

LEAG said that once the Boxberg project is fully operational, it expects to demonstrate a renewable energy system at scale that not only would replace retiring coal-fired generation, but also use short- and long-duration energy storage, along with hydrogen, to replace the use of natural gas for grid balancing.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).