The following article outlines the issues of energy storage and explains the solutions necessary to drive the game-changing renewable energy technology.
What is an electrical battery anyway? Well, it’s one or more electrochemical cells used to store and discharge power; it’s the source of considerable excitement in the energy industry, and it’s also one of the most unintentionally brilliant metaphors of all time.
Benjamin Franklin first used the word ‘battery’ in the electrical context in 1748. He was describing multiple linked Leyden jars (a precursor to the modern cell), comparing them to a battery of cannon, all firing together.
The description was better than he could ever have guessed. The idea of individual units operating in unison to achieve something greater than the sum of its parts, the notion of absolute military precision, without which the system falls apart – you couldn’t ask for a better description for the role storage is about to play as part of incredibly finely-tuned power grids across Europe.
Central to this metaphor – and to storage fulfilling its potential – is collaboration. Something which, so far, has been in too short a supply. To get there; to cross the cusp from the old energy world to the storage-enabled new, there needs to be far greater understanding and cooperation between stakeholders.
Pent-up energy: the storage opportunity
Of course, energy storage isn’t all about batteries – pumped hydro, compressed air, flywheels heat storage – there are a huge number of established and innovative technologies in the storage story. However, it’s probably fair to say that the precipitous fall in lithium-ion battery costs is what’s generated the current buzz. The cost of batteries has declined by 70 per cent in the last five years, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects a 75 per cent cost fall for commercial and residential storage systems by 2040. This has shifted the storage conversation from theory to practice.
And the opportunity for storage is huge. The EU is targeting 27 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030, which will mean a lot more intermittency and balancing challenges for grids. The move to the Energy Union and the resulting increase in interconnection and joined-up thinking will help, but storage will be vital in achieving that. Effective storage allows excess energy to be stored when the sun is brightest and the wind strongest, and discharged later when they drop. For generators, this is great, as no energy is wasted, and they can provide a more reliable energy source, increasing their value. For the grid, it means more clean energy but also smooths intermittency and makes the system easier to balance. Italian grid operator Terna, for example, has deployed 40.9 megawatts (MW) of battery storage since 2013 for grid stability.
Nor is it just renewable energy generators eyeing the potential of storage. Conventional power producers are looking to the future, and many are concluding that hybrid power plants will play a big role. This might, for example, include gas, solar and a battery. This allows the operator to provide a reliable power supply but draw on the most efficient source at any given time based on market and operating conditions. Similar thinking is also driving the development of virtual power plants (VPPs), which use smart systems to create a similar effect from distributed generation and storage sources.
Then there’s the transmission grid itself. Grid storage systems can provide ancillary support such as frequency and voltage control, provide system inertia and allow grid restoration and congestion management. In the UK, the National Grid recently awarded contracts for 201 MW of enhanced frequency response where all of the winning contracts were storage.
In short, there aren’t many areas of the energy system which don’t stand to gain from cost-effective, efficient storage systems – and that’s without even touching on the commercial and residential scale applications.
For now, costs still hover just above the prohibitive level for most stakeholders. But as storage prices fall and renewables proliferate, that will soon change. The potential is there for a virtuous circle where lower costs open up new applications for the technology, creating more demand in turn. The industry is on the brink of exploding into life.
Collaboration at the core
None of this will just happen by itself though. Despite early success, there are still a lot of obstacles to storage fulfilling its potential. For example, across Europe, storage systems lack a regulatory classification of their own. This means that they might be charged once for drawing power from the grid, then charged again when discharging it back – effectively taking on the costs related to both supply and consumption.
There is certainly regulator appetite to fix this, but within the industry it has proven difficult to even develop a definition of storage that pleases everyone – though the European Commission is being lobbied to include one in the upcoming Energy Market Design. Unanswered questions remain as to what storage is, who’s responsible for transmission and distribution and who is allowed to own what, as well as the extent of subsidy and research and development support will be available.
New industry associations, such as the European Association for Storage of Energy (EASE), will certainly help coordinate efforts with the regulators, but that’s just a small subset of the huge number of stakeholders that need to have their say.
Utilities and independent power producers, both renewable and conventional, will have to guide the industry’s development to ensure smooth interoperability. Transmission system operators (TSOs) and distribution system operators (DSOs) will have certain requirements to incorporate storage systems into their networks. Providers of data-driven, smart services that link into storage will need to be involved, as will various manufacturers at different stages of the storage supply chain. All this, not to mention the extra viewpoints from storage technologies that convert power to heat or hydrogen.
Because energy storage touches on so many different areas, the list of voices who will need to have their say is almost endless. Storage is almost a victim of its own promised success.
A call for collaboration
As Franklin’s metaphor highlighted – batteries (and storage more broadly) are about collaboration and coordination. The industry has been hearing about the potential for storage to enable a near-carbon-free grid for years, but we really are now on the brink. A concerted, collaborative push by a connected industry is what will tip us over the edge and realise that future.
To that end, POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World 2017 are putting storage at the front and centre of the 2017 agenda. The event will bring together the industry’s diverse stakeholders to discuss together how to move forward and allow storage to transform Europe’s energy infrastructure. Without that collaboration, the industry risks missing a golden opportunity to decarbonise the energy sector, meet the EU’s 27 per cent renewable energy generation target, and help change the energy world.
By Nigel Blackaby, POWER-GEN Europe and Renewable Energy World Europe conference director
Is Wood Burning Sustainable For Your Home?
Wood is a classic heat source, whether we think about people gathered around a campfire or wood stoves in old cabins, but is it a sustainable source of heat in modern society? The answer is an ambivalent one. In certain settings, wood heat is an ideal solution, but for the majority of homes, it isn’t especially suitable. So what’s the tipping point?
Wood heat is ideal for small homes on large properties, for individuals who can gather their own wood, and who have modern wood burning ovens. A green approach to wood heat is one of biofuel on the smallest of scales.
Is Biofuel Green?
One of the reasons that wood heat is a source of so much divide in the eco-friendly community is that it’s a renewable resource and renewable has become synonymous with green. What wood heat isn’t, though, is clean or healthy. It lets off a significant amount of carbon and particulates, and trees certainly don’t grow as quickly as it’s consumed for heat.
Of course, wood is a much less harmful source of heat than coal, but for scientists interested in developing green energy sources, it makes more sense to focus on solar and wind power. Why, then, would they invest in improved wood burning technology?
Solar and wind technology are good large-scale energy solutions, but when it comes to small-space heating, wood has its own advantages. First, wood heat is in keeping with the DIY spirit of homesteaders and tiny house enthusiasts. These individuals are more likely to be driven to gather their own wood and live in small spaces that can be effectively heated as such.
Wood heat is also very effective on an individual scale because it requires very little infrastructure. Modern wood stoves made of steel rather than cast iron are built to EPA specifications, and the only additional necessary tools include a quality axe, somewhere to store the wood, and an appropriate covering to keep it dry. And all the wood can come from your own land.
Wood heat is also ideal for people living off the grid or in cold areas prone to frequent power outages, as it’s constantly reliable. Even if the power goes out, you know that you’ll be able to turn up the heat. That’s important if you live somewhere like Maine where the winters can get exceedingly cold. People have even successfully heated a 40’x34’ home with a single stove.
Benefits Of Biomass
The ultimate question regarding wood heat is whether any energy source that’s dangerous on the large scale is acceptable on a smaller one. For now, the best answer is that with a growing population and limited progress towards “pure” green energy, wood should remain a viable option, specifically because it’s used on a limited scale. Biomass heat is even included in the UK’s Renewable Heat Initiative and minor modifications can make it even more sustainable.
Wood stoves, when embraced in conjunction with pellet stoves, geothermal heating, and masonry heaters, all more efficient forms of sustainable heat, should be part of a modern energy strategy. Ultimately, we’re headed in the direction of diversified energy – all of it cleaner – and wood has a place in the big picture, serving small homes and off-the-grid structures, while solar, wind, and other large-scale initiatives fuel our cities.
7 Benefits You Should Consider Giving Your Energy Employees
As an energy startup, you’re always looking to offer the most competitive packages to entice top-tier talent. This can be tough, especially when trying to put something together that’s both affordable but also has perks that employees are after.
After all, this is an incredibly competitive field and one that’s constantly doing what it can to stay ahead. However, that’s why I’m bringing you a few helpful benefits that could be what bolsters you ahead of your competition. Check them out below:
One benefit commonly overlooked by companies is offering your employees financial advising services, which could help them tremendously in planning for their long-term goals with your firm. This includes anything from budgeting and savings plans to recommendations for credit repair services and investments. Try to take a look at if your energy company could bring on an extra person or two specifically for this role, as it will pay off tremendously regarding retention and employee happiness.
While often included in a lot of health benefits packages, offering your employees life insurance could be an excellent addition to your current perks. Although seldom used, life insurance is a small sign that shows you care about the life of their family beyond just office hours. Additionally, at such a low cost, this is a pretty simple aspect to add to your packages. Try contacting some brokers or insurance agents to see if you can find a policy that’s right for your firm.
Dedicated Time To Enjoy Their Hobbies
Although something seen more often in startups in Silicon Valley, having dedicated office time for employees to enjoy their passions is something that has shown great results. Whether it be learning the piano or taking on building a video game, having your team spend some time on the things they truly enjoy can translate to increased productivity. Why? Because giving them the ability to better themselves, they’ll in turn bring that to their work as well.
The Ability To Work Remotely
It’s no secret that a lot of employers despise the idea of letting their employees work remotely. However, it’s actually proven to hold some amazing benefits. According to Global Workplace Analytics, 95% of employers that allow their employees to telework reported an increased rate of retention, saving on both turnover and sick days. Depending on the needs of each individual role, this can be a strategy to implement either whenever your team wants or on assigned days. Either way, this is one perk almost everyone will love.
Even though it’s mandated for companies with over 50 employees, offering health insurance regardless is arguably a benefit well received across the board. In fact, as noted in research compiled by KFF, 28.6% of employers with less than 50 people still offered health care. Why is that the case? Because it shows you care about their well-being, and know that a healthy employee is one that doesn’t have to worry about astronomical medical bills.
Unlimited Time Off
This is a perk that almost no employer offers but should be regarded as something to consider. According to The Washington Post, only 1-2% of companies offer unlimited vacation, which it’s easy to see why. A true “unlimited vacation” program could be a firm’s worse nightmare, with employees skipping out every other week to enjoy themselves. However, with the right model in place that rewards hard work with days off, your employees will absolutely adore this policy.
A Full Pantry
Finally, having a pantry full of food can be one perk that’s not only relatively inexpensive but also adds to the value of the workplace. As noted by USA Today, when surveying employees who had snacks versus those who didn’t, 67% of those who did reported they were “very happy” with their work life. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference this could make, especially when considering the price point. Consider adding a kitchen to your office if you haven’t already, and always keep the snacks and drinks everyone wants fully stocked. Doing so will increase morale tremendously.
Compiling a great package for your energy company is going to take some time in looking at what you can afford versus what’s the most you can offer. While it might mean cutting back in other areas, having a workforce that feels like you genuinely want to take care of them can take you far. And with so many different benefits to include in your energy company’s package, which one is your favorite? Comment with your answers below!