Why We Need Storage
The concept of flipping a light switch and having access to instantaneous power has long been accepted as the norm. But have you ever stopped to think about how we get that power and the effect pressing that light switch has on the grid?
The UK has one of the most efficient electrical networks worldwide. The infrastructure is vast and the reliability is excellent. However, this reliability is coming at an ever-increasing cost.
Currently, approximately 40% of a dual-fuel (gas and electric) energy bill goes towards network and grid operating costs. This includes maintaining network infrastructure such as pylons and substations and the costs of balancing supply and demand. More information on bills, prices and profits can be found here, at OFGEM.
The National Grid
The National Grid balance supply and demand on a second-by-second basis and spend over £1bn a year to maintain this balance. Julian Leslie, head of electricity network development at the National Grid, said:
“At the moment we are spending around £1bn a year and ever-increasing, and I think personally by the next five years or so that will be £2bn a year.”
This cost is primarily paid to generators to increase or decrease their outputs depending on current demand. This forms the network and operating costs on energy bills.
So why are the network and operating costs rising?
- Renewable Energy
In recent years, the addition of renewable generation has made it difficult to manage the balance of supply and demand. This is primarily due to the variable and unpredictable nature of wind and solar sources. Unfortunately, the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine when you need it. This is one of the reasons why sometimes, wind turbines are idle, even when the wind is blowing. Whilst we love renewable energy, relying so heavily on the weather (especially in the UK) can make it very difficult to balance the network. But as Bob Dylan famously once said, the times they are a changing!
Renewable energy is not the only reason why costs are increasing. Whilst coal is a big polluter and terrible for the environment, it is good for providing fast and easily controllable generation. As more and more coal generation goes offline, the grid needs to find other ways of balancing supply and demand.
- Ageing Infrastructure
The UK’s electrical infrastructure was built many decades ago and was not built to sustain 2-way communication. Back then, a generator supplied energy and it was ferried down the transmission lines and into homes. Nowadays, we have the capability to generate our own electricity, sell it, and send it back up the grid. Current infrastructure was not built for this, and after half a century and a change in population, it needs updating.
The National Grid and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) such as Western Power Distribution and UK Power Networks are investing heavily in grid modernisation. They are building a network with two-way communication to facilitate a smoother integration of renewable energy. This will also play an important part in minimising the cost of the transition from petrol and diesel cars to electric.
What About Storage?
It’s not all doom and gloom! As we have increased our share of renewable energy, so have we increased our efforts to compensate for the intermittency. In the last few years, energy storage has become one of the most buzzed about and most exciting sectors of the energy industry. There are two scales for energy storage; domestic and grid-scale (utility). Let’s first discuss domestic storage.
Today, it is very common to see homes with solar panels on the rooftops. Through pairing the panels and a 6-10kWh battery, it could be possible for a home to become energy independent. Now, this all depends on the size of the solar array, location of the house and the energy usage of the household. Nevertheless, with solar panels becoming more efficient, in the very near future, we will see more homes becoming energy independent. Interestingly, with household products also becoming more energy efficient, our energy demand is actually falling!
In terms of grid-scale storage, we currently have pumped hydro storage facilities such as Dinorwig and Ffestiniog in North Wales that help balance the grid. We also have carbon intensive alternatives such as peaking power plants. These are only utilised in critical conditions. They are also very expensive and incredibly inefficient.
Innovation is at the heart of the storage industry. When paired with renewable generators, storage facilities can store excess electricity when demand is lower than generation and then supply the stored electricity when demand increases. The National Grid is then provided with a smooth and flexible input, and can utilise a greater percentage of renewable generation.
The Future of Storage?
This week the UK Government announced the Faraday Challenge! Through this fund, the Government plans to build a £45M storage research centre. Approximately £246M has also been allocated to develop smart energy technologies. This includes electric vehicles, fast charging stations, smart metering and control technologies.
The storage industry is still very much in its infancy. What is abundantly clear is that the sector has enormous potential to transform the way we generate energy.
Nobody knows what will the grid look like in 10, 20 or even 50 years’ time. One thing is for certain however, storage will have a crucial presence in the daily operation of the grid.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on storage! If you have any questions regarding flywheel technology, please get in touch. Follow us on Twitter to keep up to date with the latest developments.