Battery storage: A ‘next level’ opportunity for energy management?

There's no "one size fits all" approach to energy storage, but businesses that can use the technology alongside energy reduction schemes and onsite renewables can take their energy management to the "next level".

The concept of energy storage is growing in popularity amongst sustainability professionals, as highlighted by the packed-out Onsite Generation theatre at Day One of edie Live on Tuesday (23 May).

Delegates flocked to hear the views of British Gas’s distributed energy manager Tim Wynn-Jones, who suggested that energy storage could act as a “silver bullet” for companies, but only if they are integrated into a sophisticated energy management strategy that couples new technologies with energy efficient measures.

“Battery storage certainly can be a silver bullet, but there’s not a one-size fits all solution for battery storage,” Wynn-Jones said. “It is something that can play a crucial part of the energy mix at a macro level and on commercial industrial sites.

“A lot of organisations lack flexibility. There are great opportunities to integrate batteries as part of an onsite generation solution to manage how you use and displace energy from the grid at certain times of the day. Manufacturers look to secure the best supply deal for energy and then focus on efficiency. Battery storage can take it to the next level.”

The UK is undergoing a transition to a decarbonised energy mix. The Government has pledged to phase-out the use of coal-fired power plants by 2025 and renewables now account for 24.7% of the UK’s energy mix.

Despite falling prices, renewables are still intermittent and can only feed the grid during certain periods of the day. For companies with onsite renewables, the use of energy storage can help them stabilise how they generate energy and when and if they feed it back to the grid.

British Gas Business is the UK sales arm of parent company Centrica’s international Distributed Energy and Power business. Centrica has launched a £19m trial to develop a ‘virtual energy market’ in Cornwall that will allow local businesses to sell their flexible energy capacity to the grid and the wholesale energy market.

The aim is to highlight that batteries can act as a viable business solution. Wynn-Jones claimed that a “chicken and egg” scenario was unfolding whereby companies were too “nervous” to become early adopters of the technology.

To calm these nerves, Centrica will install new technology into more than 150 businesses and homes across the county, as part of the virtual market trials. Despite the expected 100-fold growth in the UK’s battery capacity by 2020, Wynn-Jones acknowledged that “policy needs to incentivise people to adopt now”.

Fuel of the future

Another concept that is still trying to attract early adopters is that of hydrogen fuel cells. The Hydrogen Hub – a market development vehicle for hydrogen and fuel cell technologies – was also present during the event, with the hub’s programme leader Clare Jackson explaining how hydrogen fits into a systemic low-carbon future.

Jackson claimed that fuel cells offered the UK a “unique opportunity to generate a low-cost clean and secure energy to power transportation”, but that uptake needed to be accelerated.

“There’s a joke in the industry that fuel cells are the future and always will be,” Jackson said. “We’re now at the point where there are commercial propositions that do make viable sense. The expectation was set very high very early and the movement feels a lot slower than it actually has been. But we do need to get the volumes up to get the costs down.”

The UK currently has 14 fuelling stations for hydrogen vehicles. However, a range of Government-backed incentives looks set to ramp-up hydrogen use through other forms of vehicle. A £2m funding pot aimed at tripling the number of hydrogen vehicles in the UK was unveiled last year, while Aberdeen became the first city in Europe to offer hydrogen powered cars for public use on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Jackson, who previously claimed that the sharing economy could catapult hydrogen vehicles into the mainstream, also alluded to test reports that outline plans for Leeds to convert its gas grid to an all-hydrogen version by 2030 as cause for optimism.

Matt Mace

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