Swiss Warehouse Helps Buffer the Grid

IBM project aims to show how cold storage can act like a virtual battery

3 min read
Swiss Warehouse Helps Buffer the Grid
Cold Case: A freezer warehouse operated by retailer Migros is helping to balance Switzerland’s electricity supply.
Photo: SSI-Schaefer

Supplying electricity used to be so simple: some big coal plants, a few gigawatts of nuclear, maybe a hydroelectric dam for good measure—all of them capable of churning out a steady supply of watts. These days, more solar and wind energy means the electricity supply is often unpredictable and the power grid far more challenging to operate. A new project at a refrigerated warehouse in Switzerland could help meet that challenge.

The warehouse is operated by Migros, Switzerland’s largest supermarket chain. Located in Neuendorf, 60 kilometers west of Zurich, it’s a vast facility that stores goods heading for the company’s 630 stores. It’s also cold, with an average temperature of –28 °C maintained throughout the 200 000-square-meter space.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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