Germany's energy storage sector now employs more than half the number of people as the country's lignite industry, according to figures released last month.

An annual report by the German Energy Storage Association (Bundesverband Energiespeicher or BVES), compiled in association with Berlin-based energy sector consultancy Team Consult, found the energy storage industry employed around 11,130 workers in 2017.

This is set to rise 9 percent to around 12,140 in 2018. Meanwhile figures from Euracoal, the European Association for Coal and Lignite, show Germany’s lignite industry had around 20,740 direct and indirect workers in 2015. 

The BVES data shows employment in Germany’s residential battery market has grown 131 percent since 2015. The segment is expected to employ 1,800 professionals this year.

More people are employed by industrial and utility-scale battery companies, although growth in this segment has been more modest, rising from 2,250 in 2015 to an expected 3,200 this year.

The report also showed the Germany energy storage industry made €4.6 billion ($5.6 billion) in sales in 2017.

That is expected to grow to around €5.1 billion ($6.2 billion) this year, of which around €3.3 billion ($4 billion) is to come from what the BVES terms “new storage technologies” and their applications.  

These technologies cover just about everything other than pumped hydro, including batteries, power-to-gas and thermal energy storage. Their contribution to Germany’s energy storage sector revenues has increased almost 74 percent since 2015.

Over the same period, the pumped hydro sector has declined slightly in revenues, from €2 billion ($2.5 billion) in 2015 to an expected €1.8 billion ($2.2 billion) this year. Most of the growth in new technologies is attributable to rapid expansion in the battery market. 

The big driver financially was battery sales to utilities and commercial and industrial (C&I) customers. These were worth €1.12 billion ($1.37 billion) in 2017 and are set to grow more than 22 percent to €1.37 billion ($1.68 billion) this year. 

Germany’s residential battery storage market was worth a very respectable €490 million ($600 million) in 2017. And it continues to outperform the large-scale battery segment in terms of volume.

Last year, Germany had around 280 megawatts of residential storage capacity spread across roughly 85,000 installations. The capacity was up more than 51 percent from a 2016 level of 185 megawatts and is expected to rise a further 37.5 percent this year, to 385 megawatts.

This compares to C&I and utility-scale battery capacity of 178 megawatts in 2017, spread across roughly 15 projects.

The utility and C&I segments will start to catch up with residential capacity volumes this year, with an expected 81.5 percent rise to 323 megawatts and a further 110 megawatts announced in 2018, though these projects might not be completed until 2019.

Residential storage still dominates the market, though. According to GTM Research energy storage analyst Brett Simon, “Germany’s residential storage market is one of the strongest and most developed in the world.” 

The market has seen substantial activity in the last few years thanks to expiring solar feed-in tariffs and high electricity prices, he said, and “global residential storage players consistently identify Germany as a leading market.”

An indication of the scale of the market is that it saw 95 megawatts of power installed last year alone.

In comparison, the U.S. market residential storage market mustered a mere 19 megawatts last year, according to the U.S. Energy Storage Monitor published by GTM Research with the Energy Storage Association.

Overall, Germany had around 39 gigawatt-hours of electrical storage and a further 30 terawatt-hours of heat storage in 2017, according to the BVES. That was enough to cover the electricity needs of 6.3 million citizens and the heat requirements of 6.8 million, it said.

In a press release, Urban Windelen, BVES executive director, said energy storage industry growth “holds great potential for the German energy system and also for the country’s domestic economy.” 

But he hinted that the German government should do more to support this increasingly valuable asset. “If Germany wants to retain this growing industry within its borders, it urgently needs to adjust the underlying conditions,” he warned.