Camborne: The Solar Farm Using Tesla Energy Storage

Solar Storage

While much media attention has been put on projects such as Hinkley Point and the battle for the fracking soul of the nation recently, one project seems to have slipped quietly under the radar and it could have big ramifications for the future of renewables in the UK. A solar PV site in Somerset is about to get its first Tesla storage batteries and will be the first grid scale project to use them in Europe.

Why Storage is Important

For solar and wind in particular, the development of storage capability has long been the holy grail for large installations as well as domestic use. The problem is that solar only produces electricity when the sun is shining and wind only does it when there’s a good breeze. The issue is how you store all that electricity when you are not producing any so that it can be used during the evening or at times when there isn’t much wind blowing.

Tesla have been at the forefront of developing storage technology but it has taken a while to get large scale projects such as the one in Somerset to adopt it. The solar farm managed to get approval before the recent reduction in subsidies by the government and the addition of the batteries could be seen as a demonstration of the true power of solar, if only we can just manage to store all that energy.

Camborne Energy Storage, the company involved in this new development, has made an arrangement with a major UK landowner to deliver 100 MWh for energy projects all around the UK. This could make a major difference to our energy infrastructure and may even call into question the current Government’s adoption of technologies such as fracking and nuclear. Of course, these are still early days for solar storage batteries and Camborne Energy will have to prove that it works well enough to be adopted elsewhere.

But the signs are good.

According to Poweri Services, who have acted as EPC for the project, the fact that the system was able to share the existing grid connections helped to keep the costs down. Director Chris Roberts said:

“It’s a great modular technology I must admit. It’s slotted together like Lego really…It’s a very elegant product that’s been very well thought through. There’s nothing that I can see that would cause a problem in deploying these in large numbers.”

The Future of Solar Storage

Key to the future of renewable technology has always been the issue of storage. In recent years we have seen grid scale batteries being developed and now we’re beginning to see their implementation and use.

This is the first place in Europe where the Tesla batteries have been used on such a large scale but it certainly won’t be the last. Add in technologies like molten salt storage that we reported on recently and things are starting to look a whole lot better for renewable energy storage. If we can settle this particular conundrum once and for all, it may mean we can get most of our power from renewables and have access to all the energy we need whenever we need it.

While it remains disappointing that a story like the Camborne Energy Storage project has largely gone unnoticed, there’s no doubt that this kind of development will continue to shape our energy future.

Can Big Data Help Develop Renewable Energy?

Big Data

If you haven’t heard of it, big data is everywhere.

Corporations and local governments are using it on a daily basis to grind out analysis and make decisions on how they operate. Marketers have been using it to target specific demographics. It seems the more information we have at our fingertips, and the better we can collate it, the more we can improve the world we live in.

If you listen to some experts, big data can help anywhere, even with your electricity supply. And, according the Wall Street Journal, this could have a big impact on how we use renewables in the future:

“Big data analytics are optimizing oil-field production and estimating oil storage levels via satellite images and remote sensing methods. But perhaps nowhere in the energy sector is the impact of big data more revolutionary than in the operations of the electricity system, where it will play an increasingly pivotal role integrating more and more renewables into the power mix.”

At the moment we have a problem with wind and solar – when the resources aren’t just right then they don’t produce power. If the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow renewables aren’t much use. And when this happens the grid needs to bring in baseline measures such as gas, coal and nuclear power to cover the shortfall.

In the US at the moment, solar and wind power sites collect data and collate it. Combine this with weather and satellite data and you can begin to build up a pretty good picture of when power will be needed, how much of it will be needed and when there will be a surplus.

If we know how much energy our renewable projects are going to produce, we can better predict what other, less carbon friendly solutions we need to bring on board in order to cover the shortfall. We can also predict that we won’t need that fossil fuel input at particular times, reducing the amount of coal, gas or oil that we burn.

Precise data can also help dictate, for example, how many wind turbines to build in a certain area to produce the power that you need. Introducing this extra renewable capacity into the mix can increase the amount of electricity we produce, even without having access to currently viable energy storage methods when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining.

Key to success is using all this data to make better use of backup facilities. It can allow us to use less fossil fuels and, when combined with the number of smart devices we now use and the growth the Internet of Things that monitors areas such as our energy usage, we can begin to build up a more detailed picture of how we use power and when it is most needed.

In America utility companies are beginning to operate more efficiently because of big data and that means cost savings can be passed onto consumers, carbon emissions can be reduced and we can begin to make much better use of our renewable energy capacity. According to the Independent recently:

“Data is so important because it means energy providers can work out how to store and distribute energy generated from solar panels and wind turbines. While renewable energy sources like these have been around for years, storing and distributing energy from these unpredictable sources has been a major barrier to using them more effectively.”

Is Cost Still the Major Barrier for Heat Pumps in the UK?

heat pumps and solar panels

According to a recent poll, those in the heating industry see a pretty bright future for heat pumps in the UK. These installations have been more popular in other parts of Europe than here and are seen as a sustainable and cheaper way of heating a home in the long term. The initial cost of installation, however, is still one of the things that puts people off, says the poll by Daiken UK.

According to hvpmag.co.uk:

“When asked what was the biggest barrier to selling heat pumps, 53% of installers identified the cost compared with a boiler or other renewables, while 22% said that clients’ lack of understanding of the environmental or cost benefits remained a barrier to purchase.”

With potential increases to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) over the next few years, installers of heat pumps may well be able to get a pretty good return on investment. That start-up cost, particularly compared to installing something like a new gas boiler, is still going to be a sticking point. But the return on investment in many cases will far outweigh the initial cost.

The Cost of Installing an Air Source Heat Pump

Air source heat pumps are the cheapest to install mainly because they operate above ground and can be attached to an outside wall. The initial cost of the equipment and installation is between £7,000 and £11,000 and how much return you get on your investment depends in part on what system you are replacing and how much you get out of the RHI. If you are replacing an old electric storage heating system you could expect to have savings of up to £1,000 a year and the RHI could provide you with additional payments of between £900 and £1,300. You do have to take into account the extra work you may have to do on your home to make sure that it is well insulated but a good ROI can realistically be achieved over about 6 years.

The Cost of Installing a Ground Source Heat Pump

Because they involve a network of pipes around your property, ground source heat pumps cost a bit more to install. There’s the work required to dig up the garden and there are the changes you need to make to your home insulation that put the costs at around £11-15,000. While it is difficult to make blanket assessments of the benefits, ground source heat pumps are more efficient than air source. If you are replacing old electric heating you should expect to save between £830 and £1,400 depending on the system and size of your home. The RHI is currently quite generous for ground source heat pumps and you could get an additional £2,610 to just under £4,000 a year. Again that means you could see a ROI in about 6 years.

The initial cost of heat pumps at first sight seems high and could well put people off but installation can also deliver a decent return on investment with savings on utility bills and access to the RHI. If you have a home that is suitable for installing a heat pump, meeting the initial costs can bring long term benefits. Heat pumps are also easy maintenance and can last a good number of years while reducing your heating bills and your home’s impact on the environment.

Are Community Energy Projects Still Viable?

community energy

Prior to the changes in the Feed in Tariff at the beginning of 2016, community energy projects around the UK were beginning to thrive. With many local residents buying shares in various solar, wind and hydro installations, it seemed the perfect way to develop renewables across the country.

But did the slashing of subsidies by the Government at the beginning of the year mean that community energy is now less viable? Or is there still a place in our communities for these small scale but important projects?

According to a recent ICM poll, the support for community based renewable energy projects is still high:

“More than two-thirds – 67% – of the 2,000 UK adults polled by ICM last month said they would support local community-owned renewable energy projects such as solar panels and wind turbines, with just 8% in opposition.”

Not only that, but 78% of respondents thought the Government should actually be doing more to help community projects get off the ground. Many people are also willing to see a small surcharge on their bills for local initiatives that benefit their local area.

Organisations such as the Co-operative Energy and the Energy Savings Trust have been helping communities to develop their own renewable energy projects for the last six years for solar, wind and hydroelectric power. Most energy companies are owned by their shareholders but the Co-operative is actually dictated to by its members and the organisation believes that people want to see more locally based initiatives such as this.

According to managing director Ramsay Dunning:

“The newly formed Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and its welcomingly engaged ministers have a fantastic opportunity to tap the public’s goodwill and provide a significant boost to the UK’s social enterprise economy.”

Last year 76 projects were registered but this dropped dramatically once the Government introduced new changes and slashed the subsidies at the beginning of 2016. Just 10 community schemes have been registered so far this year, a worrying sign for anyone who wants to see more local involvement in renewable energy. Last week, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that he would reverse many of the Government’s energy policies and pointed to community energy schemes in particular.

According to the Guardian recently:

“Community energy schemes, many of which are run or partly run by local volunteers and which invite residents to invest, can also benefit schools and other public buildings by reducing their energy bills. But they have suffered from the axing of key tax relief, increasingly complex regulations and the slashing of the feed-in tariffs meant to support the growth of solar panels.”

Community projects are still viable but many people are now less willing to invest on a local level as the feed in tariff subsidy has been cut by so much. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any more projects in the future but the loss of a decent subsidy has certainly made a big difference. The recent Chester Community Energy project managed to get its scheme underway just before the cuts but would not have been able to proceed without a competitive feed in tariff. Those that had begun to raise money, including one for the Brighton Energy Co-operative, now find themselves unable to continue.

The chances are that, unless things change and policy becomes more favourable, we will indeed see less and less community projects in the coming years. Something that could have had a significant impact on our energy infrastructure has now been stalled and there appear to be no plans to rectify the problem. That’s something we perhaps should all be a little angry about.