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What is Battery Storage?


In the latest article in our energy security series we look at battery storage.

Renewable energy is becoming an increasingly important part of the UK energy mix, and thanks to binding emissions targets this trend won’t change any time soon. One problem facing renewables is how they can produce constant and reliable energy. By their nature, renewables produce energy intermittently, making balancing supply and demand tricky. At the moment the slack is picked up by traditional power plants, in future it may be picked up by fracking or nuclear. But there is another option: battery storage. 

Battery storage involves storing electricity so that it can be used later. It’s considered to be important in overcoming the intermittency of renewables, making them a viable alternative to fossil fuels. It also plays a part in energy security.

Battery storage is used in the UK energy grid on both a macro level – in large scale projects financed by the government – and a micro level – in individual batteries installed in homes and businesses. The technology is gaining traction due to to pressures on the energy grid and climate change targets. Last year the government gave the go ahead for eight new battery storage projects located around the UK.

Entrepreneur and Tesla founder Elon Musk is one of the most high profile proponents of battery storage – Tesla’s Powerwall is one of the most well known battery solutions. It absorbs energy generated from solar panels which can then be used at night. The commercial version of the product, the Powerpack, also absorbs solar energy, but its primary purpose is to absorb energy from the grid when rates are low. This energy can then be used during period of high demand, without incurring higher bills.  This process is known as ‘peak shaving’.

Battery storage is a key part of demand side response – when capacity margins are narrow, businesses with batteries installed can simply switch to backup generation, without having to change their behaviour. These businesses can benefit from the financial incentives of demand side response, as well as lower energy bills in general. When battery storage is used in the grid it allows for quicker response times, smoothing out peaks and troughs in demand.

Typically, both businesses and governmentshave been put off battery storage due to high initial costs – from around £2,000 for a 2kwh battery. Whilst battery installation is by no means cheap, prices are falling and new innovations are producing ever more cost-efficient and effective versions. 

If battery storage became a key feature of the UK energy grid it may well have a positive affect on energy prices as we would be less vulnerable to sudden disruptions in power supply. The grid would also be less stressed during times of high demand. And we may well get to that point – certain areas are already experimenting with battery storage on a relatively large scale – for example the Yorkshire village using battery storage to capture solar energy for 40 households. In general though, the UK is lagging behind other places when it comes to battery storage. California in particular has embraced the technology, with plans to install the world’s largest lithium ion battery system in the world.

Whilst the signs are positive, the future of battery storage will depend on innovation – the creation of a storage technology that is as low cost as it is effective. 

Are you interested in battery storage? Let us know about your experiences on Twitter @switchmybiz

 

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