More people are generating energy at home, and more green sources are coming on line—what do we do with all that power?by / February 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
The UK’s energy storage sector is on the brink of historic growth. The increased ability to store power goes beyond supporting the grid’s ability to manage greater low-carbon and renewable power supplies. Lower costs and new business models have the potential to bring enormous change. Self-generation of electricity will become more popular, our industrial base will be more competitive and cheap renewables can be more easily deployed if the ability to store energy becomes more widespread.
And yet, despite the triumphs of private-sector innovation and the support of the nation’s academic powerhouses—the lithium-ion battery was invented in Oxford—a slower-to-evolve regulatory system risks incapacitating our growth.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Energy Storage’s report in December said that 12GW of battery storage in Britain is possible by the end of 2021. This has raised the question of whether it really is possible to gain a foothold in the battery business while 88 per cent of battery manufacturing capacity takes place in Asia. I believe that nay-saying will get us nowhere. I am not alone—the government’s ambitious £246m Faraday Challenge is designed to fuse academic excellence and industrial ambition to turn the UK into a leading hub of battery development.
By 2020, Tesla’s fabled Nevada battery “gigafactory” is expected to be manufacture more lithium-ion batteries than were produced globally in 2013. As more people switch to electric cars, as many as 40 more of these facilities will be needed around the world in the coming decades. Tesla alone is planning up to 20, including one in China. Other developers are building plants in Hungary and Sweden. The European Union is creating a “Battery Alliance” to secure as much of this manufacturing capability as possible.
And once created, that storage capacity could be added to existing solar farms, wind farms and electric vehicle charge points—the power distributor WPD estimates it will have 8GW of storage deployed in its network by the end of the 2020s. (The REA estimates that less than 0.1GW-worth of batteries are currently installed nationally.) A switch to more renewables will require weeks-long and months-long power storage. The UK is at the forefront of developing this new technology.
The government and Ofgem’s Smart System and Flexibility Plan identifies the needed reforms. The pace of implementation, particularly as government and the civil service must dedicate much of their attention to leaving the EU, remains key.
I am campaigning for the modest goal of keeping to a reasonable timetable. This includes introducing a new definition for energy storage, transforming the Distribution Network Operators and National Grid’s business models, and creating the right framework for installing storage at renewable power sites. Storage will be at the heart of many future subsidy-free renewable projects.