If you’re sitting wondering just how much more your utility bills are going to cost over the next few years, you’re not alone. With all the major utility companies putting up their prices again, many consumers are once more looking at ways to reduce their bills. That includes considering whether they can, in fact, become energy independent.
The good news is we’re reaching a tipping point with renewable technology, particularly solar, that could mean a whole raft of low carbon changes are on the horizon. With smart meters also coming onto the market, we’re more equipped than ever to control the power we use.
There may be a time, in the not too distant future, where we own our electricity production, whether we’re at home or in the office. We’ll have solar on the rooftop, batteries to store the electricity and perhaps a ground or air source heat pump to keep us warm in the winter.
There are, however, several things that need to happen before this becomes a realistic option for your average home owner.
Battery Storage Needs to Happen
The battle is now on to produce better, more efficient energy storage systems. We have all known for some while that the success of technologies such as solar and wind has been dependent on developing good batteries – cheap, long lasting, cost-effective and easy to install in our homes and businesses. We now seem to be getting there with the new range of lithium-ion batteries that are starting to come onto the market. According to Forbes recently:
“These two factors, increased performance and dramatically lower cost, are what’s gotten us to the point where electric cars can go 200 miles on a single charge and Lithium ion grid storage has become competitive for some applications. What’s more, efficiencies continue to improve, often faster than most observers had predicted.”
Having said that, lithium ion batteries are still relatively expensive and also have a tendency to wear out over time. The constant discharge and recharge will take its toll. That’s why researchers around the world are working hard to develop the new storage technologies which could benefit us in the future. Of course, we need batteries because of the intermittent nature of renewables like solar and without them the future is likely to stall rather than move forward.
It Needs to Be Affordable
Batteries are great – but you need to be able to afford them. The installation of the new Tesla Powerwall 2 is in the region of £6,000 and that doesn’t take into account the installation of solar panels.
Solar power has its peak during the day so you need to be able to store enough electricity to use during the night – the time when most families need a higher percentage of energy. The good news is that, as the technology develops and uptake improves, the cost of installation and buying a battery is going to come down.
Residential Energy Storage
One possible solution to localised power is not to confine it to one home or office but to combine resources across a whole community or street. In essence, you could find your solar panels helping to power your neighbours home or charge their EV when you have excess or taking part in a system that simply gives you the option of when you use the grid or not. The idea of residential energy storage has a lot which makes it attractive and it could well be a better solution than leaving individual homes isolated.
For instance, what happens if your system fails?
That’s the big question concerning taking control of your own power supply. If you have to wait for days, even weeks, for repair work, then you’re going to be left in a precarious position. A system that allows communities, streets or even the local business sector to pool resources is going to be the most efficient solution.
That doesn’t mean individual homes won’t be able to cut themselves off the grid in the future when they have the right batteries installed. It’s not an option, however, that is without risk.
The End of the Big 6?
If we go down the route of managing our own electricity either individually or as a community, what does that mean for utility companies, particularly the big six? These currently control the majority of the electricity supply (90%) in the UK, so what is going to happen as we all look for a more flexible way to get our energy?
The truth is that the utility companies will have to adapt their business models and may have to change beyond recognition. Companies like E.ON are already diversifying into solar panel and battery installations.
What role they all play in the future remains to be seen but don’t expect major changes to happen overnight. It may be that the new properties of the future will have energy independence built in their designs. The next step will be to retrofit older properties. This could just be the next big energy revolution and will undoubtedly change the way we live and how we access vital power.
Cheap, clean fuel bills? There are still a few more hurdles to get over, but it’s certainly a possibility.
Check out our installers of solar panels and battery storage here.