The key role of storage in future energy

Renewable energy capacity in the UK overtook fossil fuels in our energy mix for the first time this year, over a quarterly period. Both at grid scale and for individual businesses, renewable energy generation such as solar PV and wind offers low-cost, clean energy. In both cases, the same problem continues to hamstring attempts to reach a 100% renewable energy mix.

Alone, renewable energy can’t meet all of our energy needs. Battery storage has the potential to change that.

At grid scale, battery storage has already demonstrated both their ability to minimise the impact of blackouts, and the need for more capacity if they are to be avoided entirely. For individual organisations, a holistic approach to on-site generation and energy efficiency increasingly incorporates energy storage as a key pillar. Particularly if you already have on-site generation, the question is becoming not one of if you should invest in a complimentary battery, to one of ‘why haven’t you?’.

A changing energy mix

Ambitious net-zero targets, a rapidly changing mix of technologies and a shift towards distributed generation presents an incredibly complex challenge for the UK’s energy grid to adapt to.

The growth of renewable energy is yet another complication, as while the energy is clean and generally low-cost, it is also inflexible: huge amounts are generated during sunny, windy periods, while declines dramatically during calm overnight weather. Alone, renewable energy can’t yet be relied upon to provide crucial baseload power.

Battery storage offers a clear solution to this problem, allowing energy to be stored for late use, smoothing out the peaks and troughs inherent to renewable generation. This potential is beginning to be recognised more widely, with figures from Renewable UK showing that in 2019, battery storage planning applications jumped from 6,900MW to over 10,500MW. Collectively, enough battery storage capacity is in the pipeline to charge around one million electric vehicles.

A major power cut in August 2019 highlighted how even with plentiful generation, disruption is still a risk. Increasingly, the problem is not generating enough power, but rather balancing the amount of energy generated across a diverse range of technologies. Battery storage played a key role in stabilising the grid following two large generation sites being disconnected almost simultaneously. However, it also highlighted the lack of sufficient flexible capacity to deal with such a large outage. Simply put, with more storage capacity available the outage could have been avoided. As the UK continues to bolster its renewable capacity, battery storage will play a key balancing role.

Unlocking the benefits of battery storage

Proponents of battery storage argue that in the not too distant future, every home and business will have battery storage. The rapid decline in costs and increased flexibility that battery storage adds to a wider energy system means that it may not be that far from the truth.

For those that have already invested in on-site generation, battery storage can deliver a better return on that investment by allowing more of the energy generated to be used on-site and through controls timed to maximise savings, such as storing energy generated from solar panels during the day to be used overnight or utilising reduced price overnight power to charge batteries for use in premium periods.

For organisations that require on-site backup generation, or simply wish to insulate themselves from the risk of power cuts, batteries increasingly offer an alternative to generators. This replaces often carbon-intensive, diesel-fuelled technology with stored electricity, potentially derived from renewable sources. Their role in a power cut varies depending on the priorities of an individual organisation, either providing backup power to site in its entirety, as a bridging function to allow additional backup generation to be brought online, or to support critical circuits and equipment for long enough that it can be shut down safely, protecting both technology and data.

While they offer a versatility and potential cost-savings, integrating a battery solution into your wider energy strategy and using it alongside other technologies requires careful planning and management to ensure the best possible return on investment. Unlike on-site generation that even if otherwise left alone will continue to generate energy, using a battery requires you to have a clear goal in mind and management to ensure it is working as intended.

As the cost of the technology continues to decrease, battery storage offers an ambitious, cleaner alternative to traditional backup generation as well as greater flexibility in terms of how you purchase and use electricity.