The main barrier to renewable energy used to be price. But that’s no longer the caseby Jay Elwes / February 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Both Rachel Reeves and Peter Aldous are right—the way nations power themselves is changing, and Britain is no exception. Technological advances and the continued fall in the cost of renewable energy mean that the potential for new, green power systems in Britain is much greater than even a decade ago.
The main barrier to renewable energy used to be price. But that’s no longer the case. Mass production of solar technology, especially in China, has brought costs down so low you can now buy solar panels in IKEA. The UK’s extensive coastal waters means the country has been quick to develop great strengths in off-shore wind. This has been so successful that UK off-shore wind energy has become cheaper to generate than nuclear.
An old argument against renewable energy sources was that they were fine in principle, but what happened when the sun goes in or the wind drops? Technological advances are close to making that argument redundant too. Battery storage, especially the development of lithium-ion batteries with their high energy density, opens up a whole new potential mechanism for powering Britain. These new batteries can store more energy for longer and can put out higher power levels than any cells ever made.
There has been a huge surge in the production of lithium-ion batteries, propelled largely by the global shift to electric cars. This in turn has caused a spike in the market value of lithium, the metal at the heart of this new technology (I’ll be returning to this subject in Prospect soon.)
The environmental consequences of removing hundreds of millions of hydrocarbon-fuel-burning vehicles from the world’s roads will be enormous. But an even greater change will come when this new battery storage capability is combined, on a large scale, with renewable energy sources.
If wind turbines, or solar panels can be used to charge batteries, then the scope of that energy becomes much greater. Tesla already markets an in-house battery, a wall-mounted device about the size of a conventional boiler, that charges up from renewable sources and can be used to power the home. With enough units of this sort, a neighbourhood, or town, or city even, could be powered by a wind farm even when the wind was no longer…