Efficient energy storage takes away some of the issues that surround the use of renewables – notably that solar PV and wind turbines are dependent on the weather
One billion pounds. That’s the ballpark for how much the National Grid spends every year, to ensure the grid is stable enough to distribute energy to millions of homes and businesses in the UK. The strain is only set to increase as government figures predict peak demand will rise.
At the same time, the UK is still committed to tough targets on carbon reduction – targets that need to be met by increasing the energy generated from renewables.
Although adding renewable capacity sounds like a simple enough task, the reality is quite different. A variety of energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives have fallen by the wayside in recent years – either because the upfront costs to the consumer were too high, because of poor marketing, or because of changes in the political climate.
But one option that hasn’t been fully explored is energy storage. This approach could appeal to the public because it allows power to be stored when it is available (and cheaper) and used when it’s not – both domestically and in terms of grid-scale storage. The latter of these is already under trial, and the former is could become more economic if plans to install smart meters across the UK come to fruition.
Efficient energy storage takes away some of the issues that surround the use of renewables – notably that solar PV and wind turbines are dependent on the weather and the time of day and year – and partially addresses the issue around incentives as energy storage enables the end user to negotiate tariffs. However, it also raises questions about whether suppliers will want to give their customers the freedom to negotiate these tariffs – an issue that might well require attention from the regulatory authorities to resolve.
As momentum grows there may well be increased interest from some large groups of domestic renewable energy providers (the rather aptly named ‘prosumers’) in operating separately from the grid. This could pose a further challenge to suppliers and distributors, and they’ll need to be innovative if they want to resolve it and keep pace with the changing needs of their customers.
What will it mean for the development of smart cities? Well, it will generate additional capacity, meaning public resources can be allocated to those who can’t afford to generate and store their own energy, while those that can will be able to manage and monitor their usage. Of course, that will mean we’ll need to continue our efforts to educate the public about the importance of being energy efficient – as well as the benefits of investing in renewables, but hopefully the government will be won round by the benefits energy storage could deliver to the British public and the UK’s energy infrastructure – as well as its carbon footprint.
Bill Wright is head of energy solutions at the Electrical Contractors’ Association, the UK’s largest trade association for electrical and building services contractors where he provides advice and guidance on energy efficiency, installations and renewables as part of the ECA’s technical team. Prior to joining the ECA, Bill worked for the John Lewis Partnership as Corporate Energy and Environment Manager, and has lectured at South Bank University.