This week has seen Carbon Brief publish analyses of the Department of Energy, Business and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) energy use. The subsequent news reports have been focused on the UK’s collapsing coal industry and the consequent impact on the environment. It has been reported that the use of coal fell by a record 50% in 2016, principally as a result of increased domestic carbon taxes. The result, a drop in carbon emissions to 19th century lows. To provide some perspective, UK windfarms generated more power than coal in 2016 – a real feat for the renewable energy industry. However, even with the decline it has been suggested that carbon emissions were still 381 million tonnes.
As more gas and coal plants are decommissioned, the reliance on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power is increasing. Energy storage technology will play a crucial role in the management of the demand for energy supplies in the UK and will contribute vastly to the reduction of the UK’s carbon emissions.
Store it or lose it
Fundamentally, countries worldwide are actively making steps towards creating more energy efficient and yet cleaner cities. The UK is placing energy storage at the heart of its new Modern Industrial Strategy, due to its potential to support smart energy systems and the automotive sector. As the energy industry moves away from carbon-heavy production, the twin-approach of renewable energy and storage will be critical for delivering on the demand while securing the future of UK energy.
Energy storage has a central role to play in creating a new, evolved UK energy system and will make a significant contribution to decarbonising our energy supply as a whole. Falling costs of battery technology and the new opportunities opening up in this market mean that there is an ever-growing business case for investment in this area.
Storage systems can fulfil multiple roles within the energy market. Energy can be stored when prices are low and used on site when they are high to save consumers and businesses money on their bills. Given the potential of energy storage to stabilise energy supply during periods of high and low demand, suppliers and consumers would be ill-advised to ignore its significance.
Storage enables more renewable energy sources to be integrated into the UK’s overall power supply. This is in addition to helping to balance energy supply and demand more effectively and increasing energy security for an evolving power network.
The National Grid has made a significant move towards a future that embraces energy storage. By committing to support battery storage on a large scale, the increased investment will mean a reliable source of real-time energy to balance the entire grid.
Coupled with storage is the development of ‘microgrids’ across the UK. These mini-grids are a cost effective solution for rural areas where a lower population can justify the provision of electricity through a local distribution grid. Microgrids will mean that energy storage technology will become more crucial than ever in harnessing and utilising renewable energy for off-grid areas.
Advancing renewables with batteries
In the UK recently, a village in South Yorkshire recently announced that it is running a trial of solar technology that relies on smart batteries to store the renewable energy that is produced. This technology will allow the community to run on solar power 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
That said, energy storage is not a new concept. Large scale pumped hydro storage has been part of the UK’s energy system for many years. In fact, 3.523GW of electricity storage projects are currently operational of which the majority are pumped hydro. But, the introduction of lithium-ion batteries, coupled with falling costs and increased funding for research and development, means that the technology now has the potential to increase the UK’s capacity for energy storage.
In the past year, the consumption of natural gas rose by 12.5 per cent due to the increased need for electricity generation at the expense of coal. Consumption of bioenergy and waste rose by 7.4 per cent. Renewable energy is clearly on the rise but it’s about more than just harnessing the energy. Effective storage is just as imperative.
By adding powerful cost-effective batteries to the grid, it is not only strengthened but can add value for both investors and consumers.
In the past, batteries have been too weak or too expensive. As a result, they didn’t last long enough to earn the revenue needed to pay off their initial investment value. Now, we have significantly more powerful batteries that are increasingly efficient. At the same time, the costs have fallen to a point where the technology is far more commercially viable.
When used alongside the grid, these batteries need to perform even faster. To meet the demands of the grid, batteries are now able to respond in less than one second to supply and demand peaks.
As these technologies continue to prove their value, the industry will scale quickly. Looking at just how this technology has developed in the past five years, it’s clear that greater efficiency and performance improvements are imminent.
As part of the Paris Agreement, towards the end of 2016 the UK pledged to play its part in keeping the global temperatures well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and energy storage will be essential to achieving this target in 2017, by facilitating further renewables as part of the energy mix.
In addition, our journey towards a more connected and smarter future our energy requirements will continue to develop, storage will help to create a smart grid that can ensure energy is always available when and where it’s needed. Investment in energy storage will help the UK tackle the negative effects of climate change, and continue to boost its use of renewable sources for maximum impact.
Ian Larive is Investment Director, Low Carbon