The UK faces increasingly unpredictable energy demands as a result of a number of factors on both the supply and consumption side. At the same time, the country's commitment to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels means that both Government and industry are looking at new, more sustainable, ways to meet demand.
Most recently, the UK signed up to a pledge to keep global temperature increases well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels as part of the Paris Agreement. To deliver on this promise, a diverse energy mix that includes renewables, and in particular solar and wind, will be needed.
The most exciting area in energy management is the falling costs associated with battery technology. This is opening up new market opportunities, creating an ever-growing business case for investment in energy storage.
The National Grid has made a significant move towards a future that embraces energy storage. By committing to support battery storage on a large scale, the increased investment will mean a reliable source of real-time energy to balance the entire grid.
The initiative centres on the provision of frequency response services called Enhanced Frequency Response (EFR) which are being procured to help National Grid balance the power system. As part of this service batteries will release small and frequent bursts of energy with a response time of less than 1 second to help balance the electricity grid. With current predictions indicating that the grid's frequency response requirement will increase by 30-40% in the next five years, it's clear that EFR is the beginning of the growth of battery technology in this sector. But we don't need to wait long at all: energy storage projects such as those in locations like Cleator and Glassenbury which have a combined capacity of 50MW, plan to be fully operational this year.
In total, the EFR tender process will result in the creation of an estimated 200MW of storage capacity. This will give the National Grid greater control over frequency deviations with a cost savings of up to £200m.
Greater capacity, lower cost
Energy storage enables more renewable energy sources to be integrated into the UK's overall power supply. This is in addition to helping to balance energy supply and demand more effectively and increasing energy security for an evolving power network.
Energy storage is not a new concept. Large scale pumped hydro storage has been part of the UK's energy system for many years. In fact, 3.523GW of electricity storage projects are currently operational of which the majority are pumped hydro. But, the introduction of lithium-ion batteries, coupled with falling costs and increased funding for research and development, means that the technology now has the potential to increase the UK's capacity for energy storage.
UK playing catch up
Although the UK and Europe have traditionally been leaders in renewable energy adoption, the UK lags behind the US when it comes to energy storage. Parts of the US, as well as Europe and South Korea, have invested heavily in battery and EFR with many plants up and running.
California, for example, has eliminated the use of diesel back-up generators and plans to install 1,200MW of energy storage by 2020. Other countries are researching ways to harness the technology such as peak shaving - a technique that allows power generated at non-peak times to be saved for busy times.
The UK, on the other hand, as part of a wider commitment to non-nuclear energy innovation, is just starting to invest seriously in energy storage. Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire, for example, is currently home to the biggest operating battery energy storage system in the UK. The battery plant contains 6MW of energy and cost much less than building a third main power line from the National Grid. A village in South Yorkshire is running a trial of solar technologies that uses smart batteries to store its renewable energy. The move will allow the community to run on solar 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
As requirements continue to grow, storage will help to create a smart grid that can ensure energy is always available when and where it's needed. Investment in energy storage will help the UK tackle the negative effectives of climate change, and boosts its use of renewable sources.
Rising investor confidence in the technology coupled with Government support on major projects mean this market is now taking shape. As the UK moves further away from a carbon-intensive energy landscape, energy storage will help accomplish a truly low carbon future.