UK to Invest £246 Million in Energy Storage R&D

While the Government seems to have taken a back step with renewables in recent times, the decision to invest heavily in energy storage will have come as welcome news to many. It’s all part of trying to create battery storage for vehicles as well as a smarter grid that uses power better and delivers substantial savings to customers.

Greg Clark became the new Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy secretary in 2016 and actually came to the job with some decent green credentials. He’s been fairly quiet since but this July announced that £246 million was going into developing battery technology – something he hopes will make the UK a market leader in the years to come.

Most experts see storage as the key to taking intermittent, renewable energy solutions such as solar and wind to the next level. If we can manage to crack that particular problem, it could lead to a golden age of clean energy that finally sees fossil fuels and even nuclear consigned to the annals of history.

Changes in the energy regulations are also on the horizon to encourage tech start-ups and innovation particularly in the area of battery storage.

What is the Faraday Challenge?

The Faraday Challenge is a 4 year investment that is seen as a major part of the current Government’s industrial strategy. It’s aim is to develop competitions that boost innovation and research and development in the battery sector. Part of this will involve bringing together the relevant stakeholders to create a ‘Battery Institute’ who will then help take the most promising research to the next level through industrial collaborations.

According to Greg Clark:

“The work that we do through the Faraday Challenge will – quite literally – power the automotive and energy revolution where, already, the UK is leading the world.”

The competitions will have three strands:

  • Research led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council with an initial funding of £45 million. Much of the success of the programme is going to depend on which universities get this money and the kind of research they lead.
  • The research that shows the most promise will then be taken forward with the help of Innovate UK with the hope of making the technology more accessible to local businesses.
  • The next area is scaling up any successful innovation so that it can compete and thrive in the real world.

Of course, this all sounds very good on paper and it’s easy to think that we are on the verge of some kind of tech revolution that could transform the underlying energy infrastructure of the UK. Car makers across the globe are already investing a large amount of capital in battery technology as individual governments start moving to outlaw petrol and diesel vehicles over the next three decades.

While there are some like Renewable UK director Emma Pinchbeck who say:

“Renewables are a mainstream technology, reliably providing over 25% of our electricity. The advent of battery storage is the missing puzzle piece which will allow us to maximise the potential of our world-beating renewable energy resources here in the UK”.

Others like the Shadow Business Secretary, Rebecca Long-Baily, are less enthusiastic about the announcement:

“The Government’s promise of investment in battery technology is simply a re-announcement of funding promised back in April as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, and their record of supporting emerging green industries is abysmal.”

While the majority welcomed the announcement, we still have to play a wait and see game as to what the initiative is really going to deliver. Battery technology lies at the heart of green energy and it’s something that is being researched and developed around the globe.

In the US alone they’re expecting to bring online some 1,800 MW of battery storage by 2021. Car battery innovation is largely being driven by the automotive industry rather than governments. It’s likely that the UK R&D community will have to work pretty quickly to keep up with developments over the next few years.

Having said that, Clark’s announcement that the Government is investing in this area shouldn’t be dismissed. The biggest question, once the technology is there, is how it is going to used and that presents a whole new challenge to energy companies to develop the grid infrastructure of the future.



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