Commercial and domestic battery storage is on the rise, moving energy off the grid and into our homes
By: Oliver Bennett
After the UK government’s scrapping of renewable-energy subsidies in 2016, it sometimes seems as if green-energy initiatives were in retreat. In fact, the opposite is true: in 2017, the renewables sector was up eight per cent on the previous year, indicating that it’s become a truly mainstream concern.
In 2018, investors will increasingly look towards storage, rather than supply. Yet despite this urgent gap opening in the market, storage solutions for renewable energy have been elusive. Excess energy has had to piggyback on the infrastructure created for fossil fuels. Moreover, entrepreneurs in the renewables sector have focused on big-picture supply factors – wind turbines, waves, Sun and estuary power – without resolving the supply-and-demand balance. The essential conundrum that solar plants don’t produce energy without sunshine, nor wind farms without wind, has led to intermittent supply.
In 2018, these problems will be ironed out as battery storage becomes widely available.
“We will see a tipping point,” says Alasdair Cameron, renewable-energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth. “Even IKEA has launched a renewable solar battery power storage for domestic use.” Add this to Tesla’s Powerwall domestic battery (launched in 2015) and, as Cameron says, “Storage is moving from the grid to the garage to the landing at home.”
As energy storage for home use becomes more commonplace, mass storage will also grow. In 2016 there was 24mW of commercial-battery storage in the UK; there will be over 200mW by the end of 2018, located in battery installations around the country. Unsurprisingly, investors have followed this growth industry with interest. With headwind provided by The National Grid, companies such as EDF, E.ON and Dyson are investing in storage evelopment. Elsewhere, energy multinationals including Exxon Mobil, Shell and Total are planning for renewable and battery twin systems. The race is on to be the market leader in renewables storage, similar to the contest in electric vehicles, an industry with which it is inextricably linked.
This won’t mean the end of fossil fuels or fracking just yet. But there’s cause for optimism. In the summer of 2017, renewables achieved their highest-ever output, meeting more than half of the UK’s electricity demand. Each year, the scales tilt further towards renewables. There is healthy competition between nations and regions to become the first fully renewable zones. In 2017, a major South Australian campaign was launched to find mass storage, with (among others) Tesla’s Elon Musk and Ecotricity’s Dale Vince to help the region become a renewables-only state. It’s an industry in which names are being made.
Battery storage is scaleable, from domestic to grid size, with land owners and big companies realising the potential economic benefits. It can help more remote regions as well as population centres: a model is provided by Ta’? island in American Samoa, which has relied on oil tankers to import energy, but is now supported by Tesla’s Solar City, a battery-storage installation. Norwegian energy group Statoil is installing the world’s first offshore wind-farm battery system, under the name Batwind, at the Hywind installation off the coast of Scotland. We’re seeing a new generation of battery gigafactories being built in Europe and growing interaction between homes and the grid.
According to Hugh McNeal of the wind industry’s trade body RenewableUK and solar expert Simon Virley of KPMG, this storage revolution is capable of transforming the industry. In 2018, it will become even more competitive and reliable – and will sound the death knell for fossil fuels in the process.