Charging their way to the top
As of January 2016 in the UK, the capacity of installed battery storage stood at 24MW. This, however, according to a report by Eunomia, is set to explode to a capacity of 1.6 GW by 2020. So what is causing this enormous growth in capacity?
It is a combination of both large companies and land owners near a settlement that can see the potential benefits of power storage, making income from an instalment that requires very little upkeep and man hours, while also potentially supplying their own needs at a knock down price.
The idea of battery storage is simple – store the energy when it is plentiful and cheap, use it or send it back when it is more scarce and expensive. Why has there become this new increase in installation? There are a couple of reasons. First, the use of an increasing amount of renewable or sustainable energy sources to produce the electricity, which has an obvious production time and non-production time.
Take wind for example: the power is there and plentiful when the wind blows and not when it doesn’t. Similarly with solar: during daylight, the power is there but not at night. This means that a way to constantly supply energy has to be sought. An easy, non-green energy solution would be to use a fossil fuelled power plant to make up for the times when it is needed, but batteries are a solution to keeping the green energy supply as constant as possible at all times. With the major advancement of batteries in recent years, using them to store renewable energy is becoming a real commercial viability.
The second reason for the increase in battery installation is that in the not too distant future, we are expected, as a world, to be using far more electricity than we do now. As heating and transport gradually change to be powered by electricity and not fossil fuels, the consumption per person will increase massively and life will become more reliant on electricity. Ensuring that there are minimal disruptions to the supply will be vital. A combination of renewable energy supply with battery storage could be is an important contribution to protection against the impact of any future shortages.
Dealing with the fluctuation
Battery storage is not the only method employed to combat the problem of renewable energy fluctuation – hydro pumped storage is also a commercially employed method to store the power generated when conditions are optimal.
This method is what it says on the tin: when there is excess energy, from any source, it is used to pump water from a low point to an elevated point where it is stored in a reservoir. This now has stored gravitational energy as it is higher than the turbine. When the power is needed in periods of high demand, the water is released through a turbine and produces electricity. This is not the most efficient method of storage, as energy is lost in the process, but it does work and enables supply to be kept at more of a constant rate, just as a battery would. The main benefit of this over battery storage, however, is the fact that the capacity can be greater depending on the size of the reservoir.
In August 2016 the National Grid auctioned a contract to supply 200MW of storage in 8 battery systems, so that supply and demand could be balanced on a second by second basis. They were won by companies such as EDF and Eon, two very large suppliers in the UK, showing signs of the beginning of a fully green energy supply.
This feeling is cemented in the general mood, as May 2016 saw many large oil companies (Shell, Exxon Mobil and Total) lay out plans for renewable and battery twin systems to diversify away from petroleum and invest large amounts of capital ($500m and $1.4bn acquisition of solar power company, SunPower by Total) into the renewable market.
Why it has improved so much
The advancements in recent years of battery capacity are largely due to one factor: whoever is first to make the best functioning battery, with the largest capacity, will be the market leader when it comes to future supply. This will buy valuable time and an invaluable asset to push ahead of other companies in the industry, much the same as the electric vehicle race. Notably in March 2016, one of the UKs best known and arguably, best living inventor and entrepreneur, James Dyson and his company, Dyson, announced that they would be investing a billion pounds into storage development.
The cost of supplying remote regions with electricity makes the twin usage of renewable energy sources and battery storage a real financial asset. The implication of this combination would mean a constant power supply from a localized grid, no infrastructure costs for installations and upkeep, and not having to pay for any energy consumed. Regions like the Pacific Island of Ta’u in American Samoa, which previously relied on shipments of oil, can now supply themselves with energy more reliably than ever before in history, thanks to Tesla’s Solar City and battery storage.
Given all the investment and adoption of the technology, one last major factor affecting the increase in uptake is the market force of economies of scale. The technology is simply getting cheaper as more people adopt and invest in it, making it more competitive and reliable than other sources. It is a combination of these reasons which has led to the current battery boom.