Energy storage technologies are beginning to take centre stage around the world. Entrepreneurs, venture capitalists (VCs), and multinational companies are now investing heavily in and researching energy storage. Most recently, UK tech entrepreneur and inventor Sir James Dyson followed Apple, General Electric, Bill Gates and Elon Musk, announcing that his company would invest U.S. $15 million in Sakti3, a Michigan-based battery company.
The UK is lagging behind many other countries in both private and public investment into the deployment of modern electricity storage. In 2014, the government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced the winners of the ‘Energy Storage Technology Demonstration Competition’, and we saw a number of specialised academic research centres opening across the UK, including the world’s first Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage research (BCCES) at Birmingham University. The DECC competition is a good start but more needs to be done. Current market mechanisms restrict the ability of new energy technologies to effectively compete, especially in the recent Capacity Market. This acts as a roadblock, preventing energy storage technologies graduating from demonstration to implementation.
Following the General Election, the new government should look at the example of other countries if Britain is to establish a successful and competitive energy storage market. We must address the ineffective use of resources, so that valuable investment into new energy storage research can be translated to real-life applications. The recent report from the UK’s upper tier of government, the House of Lords, on the resilience of the electricity system highlights this need for a reassessment of market conditions for electricity storage. A review of market conditions will also benefit other new energy technologies, such as demand-side response and active network management.
Energy storage is the key to unlocking a greener economy. It moves electricity from the wrong time to the right time, it gives a new dimension to providing back up or reserve power and it opens up new market opportunities. Take, for instance, Solar Impulse II, the solar powered aeroplane that took off from Abu Dhabi last month with a mission to fly around the world. The aeroplane is full of lithium-ion batteries, and the top surface of the wings are covered in solar panels. This great engineering feat can only occur because of a perfect balance between storage and renewable generation. There is no reason why this combination cannot be applied on a larger scale across the whole UK electricity system, to provide the correction proportions of generation, storage and network capacity.
So why hasn’t the UK followed in the footsteps of the USA and committed to investing in energy storage? Much of this has to do with the perception and acceptance of new technologies in general and electricity storage in particular. It is strange how some ideas, often in computing, phones and media have caught the public’s imagination, while other ideas seem to lag behind. Electricity storage technologies are still relatively new so costs are high, in comparison to more established technologies. But since when did innovation and progress occur without significant investment? When solar PV first came into the electricity mix, it too was criticised for high costs. At the end of 2014 there was more than 5GW of overall solar PV capacity installed in the UK, and costs have fallen around 70% over the past few years. Battery costs are already falling, indeed recent industry figures show that in the past year alone the installation costs of lithium-ion batteries has fallen by about a third.
We need to address the ‘roadblock’ which is currently preventing new energy technologies from effectively competing in the market. I hope the new Government learns from the international community, takes on board the recommendations from the House of Lords, and the Electricity Storage Network, to re-examine the market conditions and allow innovative technologies to fulfil their potential. It is time the UK joined the cast of entrepreneurs and multi-national companies investing in the energy storage technologies of tomorrow.
Credit for cover image of Amber Rudd, Edelman PR.
Energy storage is the key to unlocking a greener economy.