How important are batteries to Renewable Energy Sustainability and profitability?

battery electricity storage

Many see energy storage as the most important part that is missing in the electricity infrastructure of many countries, not least the UK. The very nature of renewable power is the main reason for this. Wind, solar and marine energy (wave and tidal) can generate large amounts of electricity but the dependency on natural processes means they are not predictable and will sometimes occur at times which are incompatible with the times that they are needed. One example of this is the sun shines during the day but we switch the lights on at night. Being able to store the energy at times when there is an abundance of wind & sun to be released to the grid when it’s needed would mean that renewables could be used to their full potential and further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Our lives are already powered by lithium-ion batteries. From sending emails to checking social media to driving to friend’s houses, batteries keep 21st-century life in motion.   

Our reliance on batteries is set to increase over the coming decades. Batteries will increasingly be used in conjunction with renewable energy production as we move towards a coal-free future.

There are many ways to store energy but the technology that is currently receiving the most inventive engineering attention is the energy storage solution that we are all most familiar with from our childhoods and that is the battery. However, we are not talking about Triple-As! Large and highly sophisticated devices capable of holding very high amounts of charge are being developed. This energy can then be fed to the grid as and when needed.

Earlier on this year it was announced that the UK’s biggest battery was going to be built at Whitelee wind farm near Glasgow. The battery will store power generated by 215 turbines and should prop up the National Grid even when the wind is not blowing. This is expected to be the first of at least six similar projects across Scottish Power’s renewable energy sites. 

There is around 500MW of large-scale battery power installed around the UK, a figure that is expected to double within three years, according to the analysts Aurora Energy Research. Almost all capacity uses lithium-ion.The most well-known large-scale grid storage facility in the world, was built by Tesla in South Australia and is known simply as the Big Battery. It is made up of a very large collection of Tesla’s Powerwall units, based on the same type of battery that powers Tesla’s cars.

The Big Battery or as it’s properly known, the Hornsdale Power Reserve, is rated at 100MW/129MWh and stores wind energy from the adjacent Hornsdale wind farm and solar energy from domestic photovoltaic panels across the state. According to Tesla, it stores enough energy to power more than 30,000 homes.

At the end of 2018 figures presented by the Australian Energy Week suggested the new system had reduced the price of power outages by 90 per cent. 

In the UK, battery installations are primarily being established to supply services to the National Grid. Such supporting services are increasingly important to help match supply and demand as a growing amount of intermittent wind and solar power comes online.

There are also the beginnings of “hybrid” renewable energy power plants, where batteries are installed alongside solar farms and windfarms. This helps improve the economics of solar farms, which can push down power prices around midday by peaking at the same time. Instead of exporting immediately, hybrid farms can store power to sell later at higher prices.

Tesla was not the first firm to introduce the concept of a home battery. Such batteries, which are about the size of a gas boiler, can store and release electricity either generated by a household or imported from the grid.

For solar households, it makes more financial sense to store and consume the energy rather than be paid for exporting it to the grid. In future, as more time-of-use energy tariffs emerge, there might also be enough of an incentive to install a home battery to avoid peak pricing.

The German firm Sonnen, which has around a 25% global market share in home batteries, said most customers today are people who have solar panels or live in storm-hit regions and want a clean, reliable backup source of power. “The market is still in the very, very early phase,” says the chief executive, Christoph Ostermann. 

Companies are working hard to increase the amount of energy that can be packed into a battery, and to bring down the cost of making them.

Prices are unlikely to fall as fast as they have in the past because reductions have already been so rapid. Sonnen has seen prices fall from more than €1,000 (£905) per kilowatt hour of energy capacity when it started in 2010, to about €150-200 per kWh today. But the company expects to cut costs in electronics such as inverters.

It is thought that new materials will take a while to break through. Paul Shearing, a global visionary in emerging technologies, says;

“The next 10 years are going to continue to be lithium-ion dominated. It’s taken a long time to get to this productivity and technological maturity level. For anything to catch up will take a while.”

Paul Shearing, believes that most innovation will be around lithium-ion, such as improving the energy density and lowering costs by reducing the amount of cobalt in a battery. He also thinks that the rate at which batteries can take on a charge will improve.

It looks likely that lithium-ion batteries will continue to dominate and that cost and performance will improve, driven by the scale-up of manufacturing and continued research.

While the Smart Export Guarantee sounds attractive being a system where your electricity company pays you for any excess energy you generate, these same electricity companies will buy the spare electricity you produce at a wholesale rate from you and then sell it to other homeowners at a retail rate. The real potential only comes by attaching a battery to store the electricity your solar panels generate during off-peak hours and then using that power during those times when it is more expensive to buy electricity.

As solar panel technology improves, there is an excellent chance that many homeowners will become either completely energy self-sufficient or the electricity they draw from the grid is so minimal that, essentially, they get their electricity for free. This is because the battery in someone’s home has enough capacity to store electricity to run a home for the day and be either fully or mainly topped up by solar energy on an ongoing basis.

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Is the UK underestimating the Role of Solar in cutting carbon emissions?

commercial solar panels

The realisation that the threat of global heating is indisputable has become increasingly commonplace. Concern is building globally about the implications if we fail to cut carbon emissions. Most notably recently the concern has been expressed by one of the most thought-provoking protest groups yet to emerge, Extinction Rebellion. Our students are going on strike and world leaders are sitting up and listening to a 16-year-old climate change activist.

Despite the fact that our scientists are telling us the very survival of our species is at stake we continue to invest four times more in fossil fuels than we do in renewable technologies.

Solar’s role in delivering net zero is being vastly underestimated as recent research carried out by the Energy Watch Group and LUT University in collaboration with Solarcentury, reveals that solar energy can provide at least 20% of UK electricity by 2030. Their research indicates that solar capacity could increase by more than 6 times to 80GW by 2030 creating 200,000 jobs. Further to that the Energy Watch Group says that by 2050 70% of the world’s total energy could be provided by solar.

Professor Christian Breyer of LUT University of Technology in Finland (coordinating author of the ‘Global Energy System based on 100% Renewable Energy’ report), said in June 2019:

“Our research shows that the UK is significantly underestimating the role of solar power, as an immediate low-cost clean energy source. By 2030, it is quite possible for the UK to get 20% of its electricity from solar; meaning rather than stay stagnant on deployment it can multiply its current capacity by at least six times to 80GW. This move to a zero-carbon economy is more than affordable; it is one of the most cost-effective means for the UK to generate its electricity over the next decade.”

“The falling cost of solar has been overlooked by the UK Government, with the European Technology and Innovation Platform for PV (ETIP PV) recently confirming an 80% cost drop in the last decade, and a further 30% drop in the coming years. Across Europe, we expect the solar industry to reach at least 1.5 million jobs in the next decade. That economic impact must be included in energy planning, with 200,000 much needed jobs created in the UK alone.”

Professor Christian Breyer

Currently the UK is providing 4% of the country’s electricity with it’s 13GW of 900 solar farms and 900,000 rooftop installations.

There is some good news as the way to survive the threat is clear. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other expert groups are working on restructuring the global economy for net zero carbon emissions before 2050. What’s more, this can be done at far lower cost than continuing as usual as set out by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and other expert groups.

To continue on the survival path the International Energy Agency calculates that the world needs to be adding over 300 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity per year on average through 2030. The UK installed 180 GW, 60% of what we need in 2018 and well over half of that was solar. However, the total renewable capacity installed was the same in 2017 and last year was the first stall in two decades of strong annual renewables expansion.


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Industry experts called on the government to back solar development and as a matter of urgency revise their solar targets to reach net zero by 2050. In June this year, Theresa May the Prime Minister at the time, committed the UK to reach zero carbon emissions by 2050 and was the first major economy to do so. The committee on Climate Change recommended a four-fold increase in renewables by 2030 to meet that target.

Philip Hammond, the Chancellor at the time warned the government that reaching net zero by 2050 would be too costly for the UK and put too big a burden on public spending. However, this was strongly disputed by UK-headquartered Solarcentury, the global integrated solar power company. They claimed that reaching 100% renewable energy in just a few decades was not only achievable for the UK but affordable too.

Frans van den Heuvel, Chief Executive of Solarcentury, said:

“As a country, we are proving that solar works, and can be deployed both at scale and speed. Social demand to act on climate chaos and switch to renewables is at an all-time high, with three quarters of UK residents now believing that climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity today. With demand for electricity set to rise as we shift to an electric based system, the good news is that we have everything we need to significantly increase the UK’s solar capacity, from the momentum, ambition and skills, to the technology, investment and affordability. The one missing piece of the puzzle is political will.”

Frans van den Heuvel

Solarcentury, a solar power pioneer and one of the UK’s fastest growing renewable energy companies will report profits of £14.4m for the year ending in March 2020, compared with £1.5m the year before. Solarcentury has grown its profits eight-fold by investing in subsidy-free solar farms channelling a 5% share of the record profits into a charity that has helped connect 2m homes in Africa to reliable electricity since it was founded by Solarcentury in 2006.

The UK, In the year ahead will emerge as a key focus for subsidy-free projects, owing to falling technology costs that have made solar power more economical in more overcast countries.

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New Smart Export Guarantee Replaces Scrapped Feed-in Tariff

Smart Export Guarantee

The Feed-In Tariff scheme which was launched in April 2010 closed for new customers at the end of March this year. Those with existing contracts are not affected and continue to be paid. Under the Feed-In Tariff scheme there were two payments, a “generation tariff” and an “export tariff”.

The “generation tariff” paid for all the electricity that a household generated. Rates were set by the government and depended on the size of your solar PV system and when you signed up to the scheme.

In the early years rates were much higher – some paid more than 50p per kilowatt hour but were cut over the years and fell to around 4p for new customers by March this year. Once you had secured a rate it was fixed for the life of your contract, typically 20 or 25 years.

The “export tariff” paid homeowners for the surplus energy they exported to the grid. Rates were fixed by government for the entire contract term and were around the market rate for electricity. It was 3.82p/kWh until August 2012 and then 5.38p until the Feed-In Tariff scheme ended. Under the Feed-In Tariff all households were paid the same rate which was 50% of all the energy generated by the solar panels. The actual amount exported to the grid was not measured, so everyone got this regardless of how much electricity they exported.

Though the Feed-In tariff has come to an end, some of the excess electric generated by your solar energy will inevitably go back to the grid and as under current legislation it would be illegal not to be paid for this a new system had to be devised. This is where the Smart Export Guarantee comes in to play.

So, what is the Smart Export Guarantee? Final proposals for the Smart Export Guarantee were published by the government on Monday, 10th June 2019. The Smart Export Guarantee requires medium – large electricity supply companies including SSE, EDF Energy, British Gas, npower, EON UK and ScottishPower (those with more than 150,000 electricity customers) to offer a Smart Export Guarantee (SEG). Smaller suppliers can do so on a voluntary basis. Suppliers are already starting to offer SEGs, but all qualifying suppliers will have to offer you terms of payment for your solar power, wind power & other renewable energy exports by January 1st, 2020 at the latest.


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This is good news for solar panel owners, because most likely the scheme will naturally become marketised, rather than subsidised. In the past the Feed in Tariff offered a fixed rate determined by government. Now, instead of a subsidy, the new guarantee will be a minimum rate. Once the new system has kicked in, it seems inevitable that there’ll be competition between energy suppliers to offer better tariffs in order to gain your loyalty.

Consultations for the new scheme began earlier this year with Solar Trade Association members. Tony Sampson, MD at Naked Solar, met with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and confirmed the following two crucial points.

  • To benefit from the new proposed Export Guarantee scheme, you must have an MCS certified installation.
  • Anyone who installed solar panels between the end of the Feed in Tariff and the start of the new scheme will be eligible for the new scheme.

The STA has been arguing for households to be paid at a fair market rate for the power they contribute to our electricity system, as all other generators are. There are two obvious ways to define fair pricing. One is through wholesale prices, which is the price that the market buys power from to sell to you – in 2018 this averaged around 6p/kWh. The other is the ‘System Sell Price’, which the government referenced as a fair price in its SEG consultation. This is the price that larger generators receive for their surplus power when they produce more electricity than they had contractually arranged to produce. The annual average System Sell Price last year was very similar (5.4p/kWh) to the previous FIT export tariff payment of 5.2p/kWh.

This is a very positive development for anyone considering going for solar panels but delaying doing so because of the loss of the Feed in Tariff. Not only have prices come down considerably over the past decade, the new scheme is likely to end up being more generous than the current tariff. With the cost of solar having fallen by 80% since 2008, it was the right time to review the way these payments were made.

The full text of the government announcement earlier this year is below:

“Proposals to protect consumers whilst guaranteeing payments for households with solar by unlocking smarter energy system

More intelligent systems will help power the UK’s transition to a clean and affordable energy system – a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy.

  • New small-scale renewable electricity providers to be guaranteed payment for excess electricity supplied to the grid under government proposals unveiled 8th Jan – protecting consumers from unfair costs associated with current scheme.
  • Plans for Smart Export Guarantee could build a bridge to the smarter energy system of the future, which can help unlock technological innovations like home energy storage and more efficient electric vehicle charging.”

Households and businesses installing new solar panels will be guaranteed payment for power provided back to the grid to unlock the smart energy systems of the future. This can only be an important upgrade to the current Feed-in Tariffs scheme.

The Smart Export Guarantee will see electricity suppliers paying new small-scale energy producers for excess electricity from homes and businesses being put back into the energy grid. The new scheme could create a whole new market, encouraging suppliers to competitively bid for this electricity, giving exporters the best market price while providing the local grid with more clean, green energy, unlocking greater choice and control for solar households over buying and selling their electricity.

The SEG means that households and businesses installing new renewable energy generators will be paid transparently for the energy they produce protecting consumers from cost burdens, by using established smart technology. However the Energy Saving Trust have said that given that it is now widely assumed that the completion of the smart meter roll-out will be delayed beyond the 2020 target date a significant number of non-smart-meter properties will not be able to benefit from the SEG for several years to come. The availability of meters could therefore (a) actually impede householders access to SEG for quite some time, and in addition, (b) delay the ‘smart’ element of this if householders have to be on basic tariffs because they don’t have half hourly data.

Under the old FIT scheme, accredited households and businesses who installed small scale electricity generators are assumed to have exported 50% of the electricity they produced and were paid for it even when the electricity was not needed by the grid or they exported less than 50%.

Earlier on in the year Energy and Clean Growth Minister Claire Perry said:

“This new scheme could help us to build a bridge to the smart energy system of the future, with consumers firmly at its heart – not only buying electricity but being guaranteed payments for excess electricity they can supply to the grid.

It could also reduce strain on energy networks with a more decentralised and smarter local network delivering resilience much more cost effectively, unlocking innovative products for electric vehicles and home energy storage; a win-win for consumers and the environment and a key part of our modern Industrial Strategy.”

At this time the government has only obligated electricity supply companies to buy power at a price above zero. The good news is the electricity sector is changing fast and there are many suppliers who want to embrace smart energy to help deliver a much more efficient, low-carbon power system, and they want customers who want to participate. Companies early to uptake the new system include, Octopus who are offering both flexible and fixed SEGs, Bulb who are offering members who generate their own electricity payment for any electricity they generate and export to the grid (This is for solar-only customers, storage-only or solar and storage co-located), and EON who are paying the first 500 new solar customers 5.24p per every kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy exported back to the grid on the assumption that 50% of generation is exported.

The more complex new system will take a while to become established but there are still savings to be made which will increase as all the big energy companies come on board and start competing with one another.

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