We are approaching the sixth annual Solar Energy UK conference and exhibition, hosted by our publisher Solar Media. Taking place next week, the show has grown and grown reflecting the, perhaps unexpected, upward trajectory of the UK PV industry. From humble roots it has now seen around 750,000 homes fitted with rooftop PV and cumulative capacity could top 12GW in 2016.
Yet these could ironically be called “interesting times” for the UK renewables. The government has seemingly favoured nuclear and fossil fuels time and again, despite saying that climate change and energy security are critically important issues. Minister Amber Rudd repeats the party mantra – that “hard-working families” should be protected from the rising cost of energy. This is despite it becoming apparent over the past few months that a proposed new nuclear site, Hinkley Point, will cost almost £100 per MWh, almost double recent figures for onshore wind. In fact cuts to solar support are likely to only save around £6 a year from household bills.
For the British solar industry, thought to be within a handful of years of grid parity, in the short term at least, cuts feed-in tariffs and other schemes such as the Renewable Obligation will be devastating. There is no way to sugar-coat that reality.
However, there may be some encouraging steps forward already under way.
As Dr Jill Cainey from the UK-based advocacy and trade group Electricity Storage Network (ESN) told PV Tech Storage, two of the most influential parties in behind-the-scenes UK policy making, the regulator Ofgem and Rudd’s government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) are already fairly well informed on issues surrounding storage – for integrating renewables, in balancing and improving electricity networks and in the logical progression to decentralised, distributed energy systems.
The storage industry is not looking for hand-outs or subsidies. There are many applications for storage that could provide either savings or direct benefits to the system which could, if done correctly, pay for itself.
Earlier this week Ofgem delivered a study on improving flexibility in the electricity system. It was hailed by solar and storage groups as being the first public recognition of the potential of storage. According to Cainey, a number of other initiatives are under way that could also start to unlock some of that potential.
Cainey says that another Ofgem report focuses on enabling new business models in electricity that could allow households and communities to participate in providing grid services for the UK’s Distribution Network Operators (DNOs). Additionally, the National Grid, the part-private company which oversees the network at the top level, has just recently called for expressions of interest in battery projects to provide fast-acting frequency response to the grid.
At next week’s show, we will tackle these topics and more, taking solar-plus-storage as a logical starting point.
Solar Media is launching its own dedicated division, Energy Storage. Headed up by UK industry pro Dan Caesar, we have already hosted private round table events and consultations, with a number of key industry players already signed up as the founding partners, with Sonnenbatterie the first to put pen to paper.
At the show
In addition to high-profile exhibits from international makers including Enphase and SolarEdge, showing two of the most talked-about batteries in the Enphase AC Battery and Tesla Powerwall respectively, there will be a wide range of UK makers and services providers in attendance, with more than 50 companies including a storage element to their show presence.
These include Moixa, which has performed the biggest trial of aggregated behind-the-meter residential storage systems to date in the UK, proving that solar-plus-storage can benefit the grid as well as households and the environment.
Another is Powervault, which made national news headlines this year with a crowdfunding drive for its domestic systems, which the company claims, are designed with the energy use profiles of British households in mind.
Also interesting but on a slightly different tack, is Scottish company Sunamp. Makers of heat storage batteries, the company’s chief Andrew Bissell is keen to point out that in the UK, more energy is expended at household level in the thermal domain as in the electrical. Sunamp is trialling aggregated storage models, through organisations including Community Energy Scotland. Various sources have also said that a combination of electrical and thermal batteries could be an effective all-round solution for the UK. Some battery companies I spoke to also seem to share this conception so it will be a really interesting area to keep an eye on.
Practical change of tack
One small PV installation company I spoke to said they had already closed their office and laid off staff. However, like some others I have spoken to, they are already looking at how storage and various combination offerings of renewable and energy efficiency technologies could serve a useful purpose to the public and keep their business afloat.
That company, understandably at this transitional period, preferred not to be named. Another small company that has emerged from this crossroads that was happy to speak, Circuitree, are trying to do something different to make themselves stand out in what director James Dean calls a “rapidly commoditising market” for batteries.
Circuitree is an offshoot of CPH Solar, distributor and online marketplace for solar goods. They are also now thought to be the only company in the UK, if not in Europe, to bring one of the most talked about non-lithium batteries in the space into households – the Aquion aqueous hybrid ion (AHI) battery.
Based on an electrolyte with similar composition to saltwater, the AHI battery is considered non-toxic and claimed by Circuitree to come in at a much lower price point than its Li-Ion competitors. James Dean claims a Circuitree system connected to an AHI battery can bring solar self-consumption up to 70%. Another advantage is that it is relatively easy to retrofit, without requiring a replacement inverter.
Dean says the low costs means the company can offer much larger home systems than competitors, offering a range of 5kWh to 20kWh – meaning that PV energy can be saved for days on end.
Seminars and discussion points
Following an incredible set of sessions last year which quickly filled out and became standing room only, SEUK will include a full programme of energy storage seminars, talks and conference strands.
UK solar industry veteran Ray Noble, who as well as working on UK solar strategy documents at the top level, was behind the design of a rooftop array at London Mayor Boris Johnson’s offices. Also an advisor to the UK Renewable Energy Association (REA), Ray will be speaking at ‘The Future of UK Storage’, part of a session at which I will be moderator.
Dr Jill Cainey’s colleague at the Electricity Storage Network, Anthony Price, will deliver the keynote speech, ‘Pathways for the deployment of energy storage – what are we waiting for?’, while companies including Enphase, Powervault, Storelectric and Belectric will also be presenting on energy storage. The International Battery and Energy Storage Alliance (IBESA) present the Tuesday’s conference sessions, with an appearance from IBESA and EUPD Research head Markus Hoehner.
Finally, everyone is cordially invited to the launch of Energy Storage, Solar Media’s dedicated new division. Dan Caesar will be presenting the launch at 12pm at Solar Media’s stand J50, where you will also have the opportunity to meet the team behind PV Tech Storage and our UK and global solar and cleantech sites, PV Tech, Solar Power Portal and Clean Energy News.
Exhibitors include: British Solar Renewables, CCL Components, Connected Energy, Haze Batteries, IBESA, Kaco New Energy, Moixa Energy, Powervault, RES Group, Rexel Energy Solutions, S&C Electric, SMA Solar, Saft, Solar iBoost, Immersun, SolarEdge, Sunamp, Wattstor, Winner Battery.