Energy storage can save £8bn in the UK

Energy storage and decentralised energy presents a massive opportunity for the infrastructure sector and the nation, says Frank Gordon.

The National Infrastructure Commission has identified energy storage as an area offering £8bn in savings to UK Plc. Energy storage consists of a range of technologies used to intelligently store and discharge energy to the UK grid, homes and factories, such as batteries, liquid and compressed air, and pumped hydro storage. This balances and smooths out energy flow when demand and supply don’t match, such as during winter evenings, as well as provides a range of technical services to the network allowing for operating in peak condition. 

Furthermore, when you combine storage with a distributed energy system, which means generating energy is closer to where it’s used, you increase energy security, improve efficiencies by removing losses from transporting it to where it’s used and lower the carbon footprint of the energy network. One example is a ‘microgrid’ where energy generation, for example solar panels, is combined with smart infrastructure such as smart meters and intelligent software, to charge a battery and then use this to power up electric vehicles all on a separate grid system. 

The huge savings being talked about refer to needing less back-up energy generation (the likes of gas plants) and fewer overhead wires sending power around the country. 

The cost of energy storage is falling considerably year on year for many forms. Lithium-ion, which is the leading chemistry for most batteries and exactly the same as found in smart phones and laptops, has come down in cost by more than 10% per year in the past five years. New battery chemistries and other forms of energy storage are emerging on a regular basis, for example lithium titanate and copper/zinc batteries. 

Applications include in people’s homes and offices - often linked to on-site solar panels - to factories and offices, up to large ‘grid-scale’ sized, standalone projects. Of course, large scale deployment will not happen overnight; what we need is for the regulations to match the opportunity. To their credit, BEIS and Ofgem have launched a call for evidence on what needs to change and there has been public support from ministers. 

What the industry needs now is a roadmap to deliver the regulatory regime required and for the necessary changes to take place with a sense of urgency. The urgency will unlock a valuable and important market for all energy users and deliver savings for bill payers. Just as importantly, it provides job and investment opportunities and future export potential if we can develop the market faster than other countries and then sell our expertise. 

This may seem far-fetched, but the UK has very strong positions in energy storage installation, design, services and some manufacturing. So as well as an infrastructure priority, energy storage and decentralised energy must also be seen as an industrial strategy opportunity. 

Frank Gordon is a senior policy analyst at the Renewable Energy Association.