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
Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?
The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?
The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.
Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.
The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.
Introducing New Technology
The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.
- To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
- Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
- Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.
How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy
Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.
The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.
The Internet of Things
Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.
Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.
It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.
“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”
Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)
The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.
4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy
Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.
However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?
A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.
1. Boulder Nissan
When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:
- Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
- They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
- Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.
This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.
2. Valley Electric Association
In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.
“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”
The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.
This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.
3. Las Vegas Casinos
A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.
“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”
There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.
4. Boston College
Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.
Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.
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