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Building capacity - an energy storage future starts now

The energy grid of the future will look very different. Aside from the projected changes in how energy will be generated, there’s the issue of storage to consider. This is not just for technologies like solar PV, with its attendant ability to generate during daylight hours, but also to manage and even out supply and demand; saving some energy for the moments of greatest need.

People living off-grid have been exploring energy storage for years (the advantages and pitfalls have been explored on the blog by off-grid adventurer, Steve Harris) – but now it’s being given serious attention in the mainstream, and very much on-grid.

Imperial College London research has suggested that by the 2020s the UK could be saving £3 billion a year through energy storage – so it’s no surprise that a big conference in October brought the key players in energy storage to Bristol.

But more proactive than that is the fact that a trial of the largest battery in Europe is set to start in Bedfordshire. It’s a world away from Duracell – 6MW of capacity to meet the needs of the grid. Andrew Jones, managing director of one of the companies involved, S&C Electric Europe, says:

 The major grid challenges from the UK's decarbonisation can be met through energy storage's inherent ability to reinforce the network. But currently there are limited large-scale energy storage projects here, leaving a confidence gap. This practical demonstration promises to show the strengths and limitations of storage and unlock its potential as a key technology for the transition to low carbon energy."

But if you think that storage capacity is big, then you should see what is planned in California. A whopping 1.3GW is being mandated, and it’s an attempt to open up this emerging market: utilities, storage companies and even storage facilities owned by individuals are set to be integrated. There is also a push to include newer storage technologies. Compressed air, batteries, thermal energy storage and fuel cells are set to supplement pumped hydro energy storage.

There’s little doubt there is ground to be made up in the field of storage – a point illustrated by the fact that of the eight firms in the field that featured in The Guardian’s ‘Global Cleanteach 100’ list, five were new this year.

With results from the UK storage trial not due until 2016, there’s time to put plans are in place for a considered and cost-effective roll-out should it be proved a success. Then, if those big predicted savings are going to be delivered to UK PLC, it’s to be hoped that they’re passed on to the householder.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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