Meet Christopher Engman, serial entrepreneur and chairman of Mine Storage

Christopher Engman

Christopher is the initiator and Author of the Megadeals book and discipline. He is the winner of the award Prosales Commercial Director of the Year 2018 after leading the renewable heat power company Climeon from 3 MUSD to 90 MUSD in order intake over two years. He is a serial entrepreneur and investor in 15 renewable energy and martech companies that do fewer but larger deals. Christopher is one of the founders of Mine Storage and chairman of the board. We had a chat with him about his view of the renewable energy sector and the future of energy storage.

Where does your interest in renewable energy come from?

I have two answers to that question. Firstly, we need to act now when it comes to the climate. There is an alarmistic level of CO2 in the atmosphere and we still haven’t done nearly enough to reach the climate goals. Adding to that, I have a personal interest in how to commercially scale proven technology. Most renewable companies navigate quite a complex environment where they need to convince many stakeholders. If I’m able to help renewable companies that already have a proven technology to scale their business faster, then everyone benefits.

Mine Storage is a great example. By applying technology that has been proven for more than 100 years in a new setting, we create a new type of grid scale energy storage. The commercial agreements for mine storage are definitely mega deals and it has the potential of becoming a scalable case very quickly. 

What is your take on the development of renewable energy going forward?

Introducing more weather dependent renewable energy creates more volatility and intermittency in the electric grid. There are renewable base loads such as heat power and hydro power. However, heat power is mainly limited to countries and regions that have geothermal heat and hydro power requires rivers and height differences. Where they are applicable, they are great, but most countries will be limited to wind and solar and some wave for renewable energy production. All of them are intermittent which makes energy storage really important, particularly grid scale storage. For example, a couple of years ago, 18% of German wind power had to be dumped in railways and other places because of imbalances between supply and demand.

Which storage solution do you think will be dominant in the future energy storage market?

I think that we will see a blend of many different energy storage technologies. They have different application areas and because of that, there is less competition between the technologies than what first meets the eye.

Hydrogen is great where you need to have a high energy density such as in a car, a truck or on a ship. The steel industry also has great use of hydrogen.

Lithium-Ion is great when there is a need for high energy density in small places, cars, mobile phones etc. Saying that, there is a shortage of lithium-ion which I think will result in the transport industry taking priority. For large scale storage, you can in theory use both hydrogen and Lithium-Ion but they end up being too expensive when looking at the levelized cost of storage.

An attractive large-scale energy storage is to use water-based solutions. Above the ground pumped storage (pumping water back up in dams when there is a surplus of electricity and dropping it via turbines a few hours or days later) can be great when there are height differences but again, it is geographically limited. Below the ground pumped storage, Mine Storage, is great for large-scale energy storages. Water based energy is also good in the sense that you can use it both for energy trading but also for balancing services.

Salt based energy storage is still pretty experimental but also has an interesting potential for large scale storage but doesn’t have the fast reaction times of water which again makes the application area different from the other technologies that I have mentioned.

In your opinion, why is energy storage an important driver in introducing more renewable energy to the electrical systems?

The issue with intermittent or volatile energy production is that you can’t continue to grow it unless you introduce energy storage into the system. If solar and wind become dominant in an energy system, the other more stable energy sources can’t “swallow” the volatility. Unless we add grid scale energy storage it will prohibit the growth of renewables, and thus our ability to save the planet. We see this happening already in a growing number of places.

How about countries that rely more on nuclear power? Do they need grid-scale energy storage?

Nuclear energy production is a baseload. That means that it produces the same amount of energy around the clock. As such, if the production is on target during the day, but it produces too much electricity at night.

I’m personally not a big fan of nuclear. The capex and opex of nuclear combined is much more expensive than most other energy production technologies. Even nuclear plants operate on a commercially driven market. Because of that, too many countries save money by underspending on security and maintenance which is a danger to the world.

Saying that, by adding energy storage into energy systems with nuclear plants it’s possible for a smaller plant to handle bigger peaks in energy consumption so it’s still a good complement to nuclear energy production.

You talk about the future of renewable energy at conferences. Do you see a knowledge gap and how do you think we need to change the way we talk about the development of renewables?

No not so much now. Utility professionals are pretty savvy now. However, we need to have a larger horizon and talk about the entire system, not each component in the system. I read very few articles about the electric system from a holistic viewpoint.

There is a communication gap around how the energy system works and which technologies that are able to scale fast enough to save the planet and how the technologies can be combined. If more people had a better understanding of the landscape, I believe that progress would be faster.

What made you get involved with Mine Storage as a company?

Mine storage has a great team and an amazing group of investors. The whole business idea of Mine Storage attracts me. It’s all about taking a proven technology and applying it in a new environment. Once the first mine storage has been installed the concept has the potential to scale really fast. The business model is also attractive since the company can make money both on the actual mine storages and also on the know-how, or the WoW (Way of Working) that other developers can buy. I foresee that that Mine Storage will partner with many different experts within utilities, mining companies, equipment supplier, solar and wind developers. Together we can make a real change for the planet!