Friday, 8 March 2019

Three independent-led developments that herald the way towards the renewable-energy-storage revolution

In the last couple of weeks three developments led by independent companies herald the beginning of the renewables-plus-storage revolution in the UK. Slowly but surely companies using battery technology are edging forward towards what will be  a means of balancing very high levels of renewable energy generation without the need of fossil fuel reserve. But it is independent companies that are leading the way in this  - with the big companies and utilities issuing little more than PR gestures while their business model is gradually undermined. 

Three developments in the past couple of weeks indicate great progress is being made. One was the start of the installation of a subsidy free solar plus battery project by the independent sustainable energy company Gridserve. Second is the opening up, by OFGEM,  of the electricity balancing market to 'aggregators' who can put together solar pv and battery units in houses to provide balancing services. This will allow companies like Social Energy to use digital technology to link together home solar energy and storage systems to provide not only energy but services that will be equivalent to capacity to increasing portions of the electricity market. The third development was the start of a programme to build storage systems to substitute for electricity distribution upgrades to provide power for bus depots, again, something being done by an independent company. This is being done by Zenobe. All these developments will not only reduce the need for extra grid and distribution capacity, but also they will reduce the need for peak generating capacity.

Already storage systems are providing increasing amounts of short term 'frequency response' services to balance the grid. But now Ofgem has allowed aggregators to enter the balancing mechanism without registering as a full blown energy supplier. The amount of storage, while limited at the moment, is going to grow very quickly from three sources: home based storage, distribution based storage and electric vehicles through their batteries.

This opens to door for storage and renewables to reach much further into the electricity markets and pave the way for peak electricity generating capacity to be replaced by renewables - plus storage. By this I mean a third of our electrical generating capacity (20 GW out of 60) is peak, so potentially we could dispense with most of that peak with storage. Peaks occur. typically (in the UK) at morning and in evening. The peak lasts for 2 hours. So in order to provide storage to cover for this we need, say, 2(hours) xs by 20GW gives you a need of 40GWh storage to avoid 20 GW peak capacity for each peak time session. 

Well, for example, each Nissan Leaf has 24kWh storage, so if you used only half of that and there were 10 million cars with equivalent batteries, you'd have that's 10 million xs 12kWh storage or 100 GWh. - And you can have home based or industrially based batteries to do the same and more. In other words the potential is massive. 

We're already, admittedly still near the start, on the way forward to being able to cut peak demand spikes by large amounts with developments like Zenobe's What is needed is to expand storage with the right incentives and regulations and link that and other growing markets like car batteries with the right software. A lot of it isn't written yet, but it can be.

Whether we have windless and/or sunless days doesn't matter to the task of reducing demand peaks through storage - but of course having more storage helps integrate variable renewables and increases their effective penetration without the need to 'constrain' them. Installing large scale heat pumps to provide district heating systems with energy so they can provide heating (and store heat in hot water tanks) is another element in the pattern.

Renewable energy is rapidly eating up the electricity generation market. Already in 2018 a third of UK electricity was supplied by renewable energy. This week the Government has announced how offshore wind will supply a further 35 per cent by 2030. More should come on top of this of course.

What we need is the system to change to balance these supplies using and growing the increasing energy storage options. In fact the big companies, in the main, just issue press releases and spend large amounts of consumers' money on installing so-called 'smart meters' that do little to help. They do not, in practice, deliver the balancing services we ought to be getting, especially  allied to storage.

But the big electricity companies are being supplanted by innovative information technology age companies based on providing renewable energy and storage.  The dinosaurs will go out of business. The only question is: how quickly?


  1. All sounds good, a lot of "hope". That hope needs to be replaced by actual development.

    Local energy co-ops can be good to provide consumers and generators within a substation area a means to make more financially efficient arrangements using smart meters.

    More needs to be done to "free up" the grid where possible through innovative measures.

    In the past, "fossil fuel giants", and other groups, have controlled energy markets through their financial power or technical expertise. Regulators and others must be increasingly vigilant to ensure transparency and that cartels or similar do not reoccur and damage energy availability at reasonable cost..

  2. The wind 'disappeared' for 5 days, at the end of February in the UK. Contemplating a 'reasonable' mix of wind and solar to meet the demand in a 100%-renewables-UK, throws up a comparison between the cost of battery backup and the cost of CCGT backup.

    To meet a 'random' 5 day low wind/bright sunshiny period gives a battery cost of £1,164 billion. It's safe to conclude that renewables will forever require fossil-fuelled, CCGT backup and will never be truly decarbonised:

    1. a medium term outlook of reducing 'back-up' requirements by a third as discussed here is a good start. More will follow in time.