The global wind manufacturer and developer Gamesa is inaugurating an innovative prototype project in the city of La Muela, in its home country of Spain.

For the first time, the company will be adding solar, storage and diesel to a wind project in order to test the viability of combining renewables and storage to minimize fossil-fuel backup for off-grid applications.

The pilot system currently features a G52 850-kilowatt wind turbine, 245 kilowatts of PV solar, and three 222-kilowatt diesel generators.

Gamesa plans to add lithium-ion batteries capable of storing 500 kilowatts by the summer, and will also be testing some form of flow battery technology. In the longer term the company could expand its use of storage technology, depending on the specific needs of an installation, and would consider using ultracapacitors and flywheels.

The project, which has a total installed capacity of over 2 megawatts, will use custom-designed software to optimize the combination of energy sources.

Once proven, the system could be rolled out to different off-grid situations, including mines, cement works and isolated communities such as islands and remote villages, with varying combinations of wind, solar, diesel and storage, depending on the needs.

Gamesa says the off-grid system will reduce diesel dependence by between 15 percent and 35 percent, or perhaps even more.

Off-grid systems will also allow the company to reap higher margins with a fairly low investment commitment.

The company admitted that its proposed combination of renewables, storage and diesel would not come cheap. Spokesperson Veronica Diaz Lopez said the long-term benefits would more than make up for the hefty upfront costs, however. "Including a turbine makes sense on the megawatt projects with sufficiently good wind resource, where the [levelized cost of energy] of wind will be much lower than diesel,” she said.

"Of course, this comes with an upfront capex, but the gains in the opex for lifetime of the project are enormous. The opex during the lifecycle due to diesel consumption is around 80 percent in projects without renewable energy," said Diaz Lopez.

The company already employs remote-control facilities in Spain, the U.S. and India, which enable operators to view turbine parameters in real time and take steps to maximize availability.

Despite these assurances, Gamesa is very open about the fact that the turbine component will be the trickiest to make ready for the paying public. As a result, says Diaz: "We expect first orders [to come] from the PV-plus-diesel solutions."

Nevertheless, the company is already "actively marketing the solution, and is analyzing dozens of projects in off-grid areas, mostly in Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America."

Brett Simon, an analyst specializing in energy storage with GTM Research, thinks Gamesa could be onto a winning strategy, but cautions: "Lack of prior projects of this type [could result] in early-mover costs and challenges for developers."

He also considers niche industries like mining as potentially worth targeting. Mining companies have already proved to be open to hybrid systems.

Although not employing wind, the DeGrussa copper and gold mine in Australia uses solar-plus-storage to offset diesel and improve reliability. Meanwhile, Electro Power Systems and Toshiba have recently announced a project designed to provide energy for a mining operation in Australia, consisting of 3 megawatts of solar panels, 2 megawatts of wind energy and a 1-megawatt energy storage system. 

It's still early days, but it seems Gamesa may be building a high-growth business for itself.