Is Energy Storage the Future?

Do you know the word we dislike most in the English Language? It’s that word ‘but’. It really does get in the way of lots of things in life. Just when you think everything’s fine, along comes a ‘but’. And this, unfortunately, is the same with energy storage.

When we speak to our members, our manufacturing partners, government departments and that bloke in the pub who knows everything, they all agree on one thing – energy storage is the future, but….

  • But the price isn’t low enough yet
  • But they’re not yet safe enough
  • But they’re still too big and heavy for many domestic settings
  • But they don’t hold enough charge
  • But their life isn’t long enough to achieve an attractive payback period

When we talk about energy storage, we shouldn’t forget about heat storage units, which are fast becoming an extremely effective addition to renewable energy production. But we don’t have the space to look at them in this article (There’s that word again: ‘but’. For such a small word it really causes a lot of trouble. At least the word ‘hangover’ has the decency to have eight letters and three syllables). Here, we’re looking at Domestic Electrical Energy Storage Systems, to give them their full title. Most people refer to them as batteries.

Battery Storage

Battery Storage comes in all shapes and sizes and is nothing new. In 1800 Volta invented the first true battery – a real coincidence that he already had an electrical sounding name. One of the UK’s most impressive batteries is actually a mountain. Situated in Llanberis (sorry for spitting) in Wales and known as ‘Electric Mountain’, grid electricity is used to pump water up the mountain during the daytime when the UK has a surplus of power and it’s therefore cheap (even free). Then, during peak times, the same water is allowed to run down the mountain tunnel to create hydropower.

Domestic Batteries

We’ve been using primary batteries in our homes for decades. Primary batteries are those that we throw away (put into the appropriate recycling unit), whereas secondary batteries can be recharged. One of the problems we’ve had is how often we can recharge these batteries before they lose their efficiency. Take Apple’s recent problem with the iPhone 6 that gave up the ghost after two years. We measure battery life in ‘charge cycles’, and we are now seeing domestic batteries that, at least in a test environment, specified at 10,000 cycles within a certain depth of depletion (DOD – the percentage of the battery that can be effectively used, as most lithium batteries require an amount of charge to remain).

If some of the battery usage calculators that are in current use are to be believed, then domestic batteries are not the future – they’re already here and contributing significantly to the self-consumption of many consumers. But most calculators tend to assume a perfect environment where there are no losses in the cabling, no extremes of heat or cold, where consumers don’t go on holiday, leaving the energy largely unconsumed, where there are zero maintenance issues and the battery will never lose efficiency or need replacing. Add in all these factors and it becomes debatable as to whether the battery will pay for itself before it goes the way of those iPhone 6 batteries.

But there’s a lot of investment in batteries at the moment, meaning they will get smaller in size, larger in capacity, lighter, safer, more efficient and longer lasting. Importantly, the investment isn’t coming so that we can squeeze a few more kilowatt hours out of a domestic solar system, making up for the lack of Feed-in Tariff from next year. In fact, the next push behind domestic energy storage systems will be to the majority of consumers – not just those who have solar, wind or hydro.

Grid Interoperability

On their own, a 3, 5 or even 10-kilowatt battery will make little difference to our national energy challenge, but put thousands, or even millions of these domestic storage units together, and they become a powerful proposition. Enter ‘Aggregators’ – a company that gathers together hundreds of domestically owned batteries and buys and sells the energy that they store for their customers, keeping a small percentage for their trouble. A sophisticated technology platform tracks customers’ usage so that it can predict how much energy will be spare at peak times, then sells it to the Grid. Then, when energy is at its cheapest, the batteries charge up again – either for self-consumption or to sell back for a profit. Homes that do have renewable energy will be able to take even more advantage of this system, but it will become commonplace for most domestic households.

By using this type of technology – known as grid interoperability – consumers payback period is reduced significantly, moving them into profit far more quickly. It also helps the country’s energy imbalance, particularly as the Grid can call upon this storage in seconds – far quicker than other, less desirable sources, such as coal or nuclear.

So when can we look forward to this happening? Is this another of those inventions that we were promised and are still waiting for? Like the hoverboards from Back to the Future? On a small scale, this is already happening, and many of our partners are geared up to take this mainstream in 2018 (we’ve seen the future – and it’s not just garlic bread).

Is energy storage the future? Yes, but it’s fast becoming the present.

So if you want to be part of this energy
evolution, we can hook you up.

Just get in touch – Call us on 0344 324 5242