This guest blog comes from Mason Cole, MA Politics and Contemporary History student and Sustainability Champion Assistant (SCA), supporting the King’s Energy Team.
In last week’s blog post, we discussed the UK’s challenges when it comes to adopting renewable energy. One of these is combatting intermittency and increasing the efficiency of wind and solar power. The eagle-eyed among you may have spotted a potential solution: batteries. No, not the Duracell Bunny. Big batteries. Batteries for storing energy. Intrigued? Read on to discover more.
What is “big battery” technology?
Think of your phone battery. You plug it into the mains, it charges, and the charge is retained for a period of time. The theory here is very similar. Instead of having periods of over-and undersupply, renewable energy can instead be stored in large-scale battery facilities. It can then be fed back into the grid.
What are the advantages?
The main advantage of “big battery” technology is that they minimise energy wastage, making investments in renewables far more attractive. Batteries can even out the energy harvested by renewables over the year, so your household isn’t dependent on 365 days of sun. In addition, if you have one in your own home, the energy will be stored rather than returned to the grid, decreasing your reliance on the grid and reducing the stress on the grid itself. Another advantage is that even with limited capacity, battery storage can be used to power homes via the grid in emergencies or in times of power outages instead of using natural gas.
Is it available already?
Yes and no. This technology is available for home use (for those who generate their own electricity) but is not yet widely available on an industrial scale. However, that is changing. California, for example, has a 300-megawatt lithium-ion battery already up and running and another 100-megawatt battery due to become operational this year. Because of these initiatives, more funding is being allocated to developing this technology.
What about the UK?
The UK and Europe as a whole have been a little slower to become convinced by the merits of this technology, and so there are no fully operational battery storage facilities in the UK yet. However, the development of several facilities is underway. The largest of these is in Essex, on the Thames Estuary, where InterGen has gained planning permission for a 320MW site at the cost of £200m. It will also have the potential for further expansion, up to 1.3GW. This would make it ten times the size of other projects also underway in the UK and able to power over half a million homes in the event of a power outage.
So, “big battery” technology really is just big batteries. It remains to be seen just how effective they are in the long term. Still, it seems a crucial element of transitioning to renewable energy sources will be to store this energy when there is no demand for it, and batteries are currently one of the best ways to do so.
As always, if you have any further questions or want to get involved with King’s Energy, get in touch!