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J Sustain Res. 2020;2(1):e200002.


Scaling-up Sustainable Energy Storage in Developing Countries

Fernando J. de Sisternes 1,2,* , Heather Worley 1, Simon Mueller 1, Thomas Jenkin 1,3

1 The World Bank, 1850 I Street NW, Washington, DC 20433, USA

2 MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research (CEEPR), 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA

3 Johns Hopkins University, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences–AAP, 1717 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA

* Correspondence: Fernando J. de Sisternes.

Received: 31 October 2019; Accepted: 21 November 2019; Published: 25 November 2019

This article belongs to the Virtual Special Issue "Sustainable Energy for Development"


Background: The modularity and universal deployability of certain energy storage and variable renewable energy resources make the combination of these two elements a possible game changer for achieving universal access to electricity in developing countries while simultaneously decarbonizing their electric grids. Recent cost declines in electrochemical batteries have enabled solutions based on batteries and renewables that have proved to be cost-competitive with fossil-based alternatives in a growing number of cases. However, most widely-available battery systems may not be optimal for power systems applications operating under the challenging conditions frequently found in developing countries. Additionally, scaling-up sustainable energy storage in developing countries requires addressing a number of important challenges that are not well understood. The study presented in this article aims at identifying these challenges, and was undertaken in preparation of the Energy Storage Partnership: a consortium of over 30 organizations convened by the World Bank to jointly address them.

Methods: Expert elicitation in combination with a literature review of standards, news articles, vendors’ public materials and academic literature.

Results: The study identifies current challenges for scaling up energy storage in developing countries, and presents research and development work to overcome them.

Conclusions: A wide spectrum of research and development actions is required for energy storage to make its full contribution to energy policy objectives in developing countries. Implementing the actions highlighted in this article will require a concerted approach by national governments and stands to benefit substantially from international cooperation.

KEYWORDS: sustainable energy storage; developing countries; batteries; electrification; access; recycling; safety


VRE, Variable Renewable Energy; ESMAP, Energy Sector Management Assistance Program; WB, World Bank; ESP, Energy Storage Partnership


Renewable energy—particularly wind and solar power—has become an economically viable option for electricity production in developing countries. However, wind and solar are variable renewable energy (VRE) sources. Their output fluctuates with the instantaneous availability of wind and sunlight—and there is no guarantee that they will be available when they are needed most. Unlocking the full contribution of renewable energy resources to meeting electricity demand requires additional measures for their integration into power systems.

Countries that have pioneered effective and efficient VRE integration strategies are mostly economically developed; feature sufficient dispatchable generation capacity and operational reserves, as well as robust and stable grids; and, in most cases, good interconnections and energy trade agreements with neighboring countries. In these contexts, cost-effective VRE integration strategies focus on the improved use of existing assets combined with enhanced system operations.

However, most developing countries are in a very different position: existing generation capacity is often insufficient to meet growing electricity demand, the grid is often under-developed (both within and between countries), and operators are unable to maintain grid stability due to a lack of adequate control over generation dispatch and poor demand forecasts. Consequently, under these circumstances, increasing amounts of VRE could impact negatively the secure operation of these systems.

This difference in context requires a fresh approach to system integration and system reliability that focuses on the needs of developing countries. Such an approach will likely feature a more prominent role for energy storage as a solution to support system operations and enable the integration of higher renewable shares without increasing operational challenges.

Energy storage can help match VRE supply to electricity demand, for example by storing solar energy mid-day and releasing it after sunset, when demand is often at peak. Combinations of VRE capacity and energy storage—particularly long-duration energy storage—can therefore offer a low-carbon alternative for providing firm capacity to power systems. Most importantly, energy storage can also provide a range of system services, which helps increase the reliability of power systems, especially in developing countries with weak grid infrastructure. Storage solutions can also help improve energy access in remote areas, where grid expansion is not possible or cost-effective. Furthermore, energy storage can be part of resilience strategies in the face of increasing extreme weather events.

Energy storage comprises a multitude of different technologies. They are frequently differentiated by the way in which energy is stored, and can differ significantly in round-trip efficiency: thermal (e.g., molten salt storage for heat or ice for cooling), gravitational potential (e.g., pumped storage hydro), kinetic (e.g., flywheels), electro-static (capacitors), electro-chemical (batteries), compressed air (e.g., adiabatic CAES) or chemical (e.g., synthetic fuels). Within each category there are typically several different technologies relying on similar physical principles but with very different properties and levels of maturity.

The category with the widest variety of technologies and the most rapid recent techno-economical progress is electro-chemical storage, i.e., batteries. Particularly lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries have seen very rapid cost declines as their use has grown exponentially driven by the market for mobile applications, first in electronic devices, and more recently over the last decade in their use in electric vehicles and their hybrid counterparts. In these applications, high energy density (both in terms of mass and volume) is highly desirable and will take priority over other aspects such as high cycle life.

By contrast, stationary battery applications have different use characteristics and thus dictate different priorities for battery properties. For example, weight and volume constraints may be less relevant, while a high cycle life can be crucial to achieve cost-competitiveness in regimes of frequent charging and discharging. Moreover, lithium-ion batteries are not ideally placed to operate under harsh climate conditions without significant cooling—as both very low and high temperatures lead to more rapid cell degradation and reduce cell efficiency though this varies by chemistry. This may negatively impact the ability of some Li-ion technologies to meet the requirements of stationary applications in developing countries that frequently feature harsh climate conditions.

Recognizing the value that battery storage can bring to developing countries’ grids, the World Bank has launched a dedicated program to scale-up battery electricity storage solutions in developing countries and has committed to provide USD 1 billion in support of the program. In addition, the World Bank has launched a global Energy Storage Partnership (ESP) to accelerate progress in the availability of sustainable energy storage solutions for developing countries. In the context of the ESP the World Bank conducted an expert elicitation to better understand what the challenges to scale-up energy storage in developing countries are, and the actions that could be taken to address them.

This article describes the main findings of this research, identifying a series of research priorities to address the main challenges to scaling up sustainable energy storage solutions.


The team conducting the study used a research-based approach combining literature review and expert elicitation. Accordingly, the team initially conducted a literature review of academic papers, news articles and standards to identify the broad set of technologies, uses, challenges and solutions associated with stationary applications of energy storage. There is a significant and rapidly growing literature focusing on the different types of energy storage and their applications and costs (e.g., Akhil et al. 2015 [1], Desmet 2017 [2], IRENA 2017 [3], Martinez Romero et al. 2015 [4] Lazard 2018 [5], Schmidt et al. 2017 [6], Denholm et al. 2010 [7]), the value of energy storage in decarbonizing electric power (e.g., Sepulveda et al. 2018 [8] and De Sisternes et al. 2016 [9]), existing energy storage stationary projects—the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) maintains a global energy storage database: https://www.energystorageexchan (e.g., EIA 2018 [10]), best practices and evolving standards and safety (e.g., DNV-GL 2017 [11]), market barriers and the use of policy incentives (e.g., Elgqvist et al. 2018 [12], Bhatnagar et al. 2013 [13] and Sioshansi et al. 2012. [14]), ownership models and challenges to scaling up energy storage in stationary applications (ADB 2018 [15]). The multiple value streams of energy storage and how to operate storage and create mechanisms to “stack” and capture the social value of energy storage has also received considerable attention (e.g., Sidhu et al. 2018 [16], Strbac et al. 2017 [17], Hledik et al. 2017 [18], Hledik et al. 2018 [19], Byrne et al. 2018 [20], Fitzgerald et al. 2015 [21], Sioshansi et al. 2013 [22] and Denholm et al. 2013 [23]).

However, given the novel interest in stationary energy storage in developing countries—outside of minigrid and island applications (e.g., Micangeli et al. 2017 [24], Ericson et al. 2017 [25], USAID [26], and Barelli et al. 2019 [27])—there is relatively little information publicly available that is focused on this topic with some notable recent exceptions. These include, for example Few et al. 2018 and 2019 [28,29] who provide many valuable observations and insights about the challenges facing the use of energy storage in developing countries and emerging markets and how they might be addressed; while IRENA (2019) [30] documents a number of renewable projects in developing countries, some of which use energy storage; and Vivid Economics and Faraday Institution (2019) [31] highlight the role of storage in off-grid applications to increase access to electricity and displace diesel consumption. Other recent studies have looked carefully at some of the recycling and other environmental challenges of energy storage systems (e.g., Deghani-Sanij et al. 2019 [32]), relevant to energy storage projects in developing countries. In addition, a number of studies identified mechanisms to overcome some of the potential barriers to the deployment of energy storage, such as the benefits of the availability of affordable wrapped warranties that may apply to both developed and developing countries (e.g., Robson and Bonomi 2018 [33]). The literature review was complemented with an expert elicitation, by which the team gathered direct expert opinions on the value and challenges of deploying sustainable energy storage solutions in developing countries.

The literature review informed the identification of existing knowledge gaps, and the preparation of a set of questions (Table 1) to guide the expert interviews. The selection of the pool of experts interviewed was based on a mix of organizations identified in the literature review as being active in the space, and World Bank partners. During the course of the study, the team elicited responses from representatives of over 100 organizations, including: international organizations, energy storage industry associations, energy storage solutions vendors, research laboratories, universities, and electric power utilities. Interviews were conducted over the course of one hour, with follow-up calls to clarify specific points.

Table 1. Set of questions used during the expert elicitation.

Interviews also included a number of technology specific questions focusing on storage sizing, storage duration, degradation, toxicity, recyclability, operability, availability of materials and technology risks.


Results fall into two main categories. The first category consists of requirements that need to be met for energy storage to help meet developing countries’ objectives. It is natural to frame these in the form of challenges, highlighting those areas where there is currently a gap between what would be needed, and the status quo as found in this study. The second category of results sets out a research and development agenda organized along these challenges, and grouped into four research tracks. These findings represent a synthesis of the ideas identified through the literature review—many of which motivated by ideas laid out in [27] and [28]—and the interviews. Collectively, the analysis proposed under the four tracks can make a significant contribution to overcoming the challenges facing energy storage in developing countries today.

Main Challenges and Requirements

The research revealed four main groups of challenges that currently hinder uptake of sustainable energy storage solutions in developing countries:





Table 2. Attributes of sustainable energy storage technologies.

Based on the four groups of challenges described and desirable attributes shown in Table 2, the team organized the full list of research topics identified along four tracks focused on “Technology RD&D, Applications and Standards” (Track 1); “System Integration and Planning Tools” (Track 2); “Policies, Regulation and Procurement” (Track 3); and “Enabling Systems for Management and Sustainability” (Track 4) .The main items along the four tracks are briefly summarized in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Summary of the main research tracks proposed and the main items within each track.

In the remainder of this section, the four tracks and related analysis is presented in more detail.

Research Track 1: Technology Research, Development & Demonstration, Applications

Research along this track aims to increase understanding of the technical specifications required by energy storage solutions for power system applications in developing countries and increase the availability, commercial maturity, and affordability of such solutions. It can be further segmented into three areas: adaptation of mature technologies; research, demonstration and development of new technologies; development of standards, quality assurance mechanisms, testing and labels.

Adaptation of mature energy storage technologies and their application in developing countries

Research, demonstration and development of new technologies

Development of standards, quality assurance mechanisms, testing and labels

Research Track 2: System Integration and Planning Tools

Optimizing the size and operation of energy storage in a power system requires appropriate planning using system modelling tools that reflect both energy storage systems themselves as well as the power systems in which they operate. While the past years have seen significant progress in the improvement of power system models and tools, this process is far from being completed given the significant challenges of processing much higher resolution data. Hence, this research track is directed towards developing models to support technology selection, and optimal sizing in terms of power capacity (kW or MW), energy capacity (kWh or MWh) and duration (hours), and (dis)charge rates—with a clear emphasis on capturing renewable variability and the specific needs of energy storage in developing countries. The track can be further differentiated into research aimed at improving modelling tools for (1) the overall power system and (2) energy storage system modeling tools.

Power system modeling tools

Energy storage system modeling tools

Research Track 3: Policies, Regulation, and Procurement

Research along this track aims to increase understanding of the policy, market, regulatory, and procurement frameworks applicable to energy storage solutions for grid applications in developing countries. Because this track relates to instruments that directly target deployment, learning in this field will be very closely linked to technology deployment. The following topics have been identified:

Research Track 4: Enabling Systems for Management and Sustainability

There are several enabling systems and infrastructure needs without which deployment of energy storage will be slower, costlier, and less sustainable. Such systems include supplementary systems needed for efficient operation (e.g., systems to monitor and operate the broader power system, cooling systems, etc.), recycling systems, as well as the presence of local industries, well-trained local staff, and manufacturing practices that bring added value for developing countries and communities. Along this track activities aim to highlight the opportunities for establishing parts of the energy storage value chain in developing countries, while increasing the capacity of local staff and improving the design and availability of systems required for the sustainable, long-term deployment of energy storage.


The results of this study demonstrate that a wide spectrum of actions is required for energy storage to make its full contribution to energy policy objectives in developing countries. As the grouping around different tracks highlights, research and development requirements cover the entire value chain. This starts with availability of suitable technologies, which calls for adapting existing technologies and supporting the development and testing of novel chemistries and designs. But even if these were available, deployment in developing countries would still require improved modelling capabilities in order to choose appropriate solutions (Track 2) as well as a supportive procurement, policy and regulatory framework (Track 3). Finally, making such deployment environmentally, socially and economically sustainable further requires progress in recycling systems, identifying opportunities for local value creation, and improved operation and maintenance strategies (Track 4).

It is worth highlighting that already the adaptation of existing technologies—combined with actions along Tracks 2–4—could unlock a meaningful contribution from energy storage. Efforts in this direction can bring a double benefit. Firstly, adaptation of established technologies implies that technology development will not be a relevant bottleneck and benefits can accrue to countries more quickly. Secondly, they allow establishing all required components of the value chain to enable deployment in a given developing country. Innovative solutions can then be rolled out much more quickly once available, because the relevant "enabling infrastructure" is already established.

Implementing the various research and development actions highlighted in this article will require a concerted approach by national governments—in industrialized as well as developing countries—and stands to benefit substantially from international cooperation. Facilitating such an approach is at the center of the World Bank’s Energy Storage Partnership (ESP). The ESP functions as a platform for exchange between governments, private companies, academia, government- and non-government organizations, independent experts and representatives of civil society to accelerate progress for energy storage along the four tracks identified in the research for this study.


Renewable energy—particularly wind and solar power—has become an economically viable option for electricity production in developing countries. Developing countries generally feature insufficient grid and power generation infrastructure. Consequently, energy storage is likely to play a more important role for system integration of variable sources of electricity.

This study relied on a combination of literature review and expert elicitation via interviews with representatives of over 100 organizations to identify current challenges for energy storage in developing countries, and propose research and development work that can contribute to overcoming these challenges. Challenges can be summarized along six properties that storage technologies need to meet for a sustainable deployment, but which are still challenging to obtain at reasonable costs in the market: recyclability, low toxicity, safety, accessibility, robustness, and operability. This study presents research and development work, organized into four main tracks that can help to overcome aforementioned challenges. The tracks are: (1) Technology Research, Development & Demonstration, Applications; (2) System Integration and Planning Tools; (3) Policies, Regulation, and Procurement; (4) Enabling Systems for Management and Sustainability.

The results of this study demonstrate that a wide spectrum of actions is required for energy storage to make its full contribution to energy policy objectives in developing countries. However, this does not mean that deployment needs to wait until new technologies become available. In addition to its direct benefits, the deployment of appropriately adapted existing technologies in developing countries can help to establish the required parts of the value chain there. In turn, this allows a fast-tracked deployment also of innovative solutions once these become commercially available.

Implementing the various research and development actions highlighted in this article will require a concerted approach by national governments—in industrialized as well as developing countries—and stands to benefit substantially from international cooperation.


FdS and HW designed the study and conducted the interviews, TJ conducted the literature review, SM drafted the description of the research tracks based on outputs from the interviews and the literature review, all authors contributed to the identification of research topics and writing the article.


The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


The work presented in the article was funded by the World Bank’s Energy Sector Management Assistance Program (ESMAP). ESMAP is a partnership between the World Bank Group and 18 partners to help low and middle-income countries reduce poverty and boost growth, through environmentally sustainable energy solutions. ESMAP’s analytical and advisory services are fully integrated within the World Bank Group’s country financing and policy dialogue in the energy sector.


The authors wish to thank ESP partners, organizations interviewed and peer reviewers for their inputs. The authors also wish to thank the following individuals for their inputs throughout the period leading to the first meeting of the ESP: Zuzana Dobrotkova, Chandrasekar Govindarajalu, Rohit Khanna, Sandra Chavez, Pierre Audinet, Manuel Millan, Chong Suk Song, Phillip Hannam, Silvia Martinez, and Tarek Keskes.



































How to Cite This Article

De Sisternes FJ, Worley H, Mueller S, Jenkin T. Scaling-up Sustainable Energy Storage in Developing Countries. J Sustain Res. 2020;2(1):e200002.

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