Full power for the store-age


How the UK Government’s recent announcement confirms a tipping point in the viability of energy storage.

Contributed by Dr. Andrew Crossland


This July, headlines across the UK heralded the Government’s plans to “revolutionise the electricity system” with a new focus on batteries in homes and businesses. Ministers have promised to:

  • Allow more time of use tariffs which unlock more value for energy storage tariffs.
  • Set standards for white goods to be able to automatically respond to when prices are low or to shut off when there are power shortages or power prices are high.
  • Promote further research into energy storage through a “battery institute”.
  • Enabling a trade in “negawatts”, i.e. valuing the ability to avoid using expensive peak generation plants or paying generators for emergency power (as highlighted by Solarcentury last year).

The announcement from Greg Clark has provided more focus on batteries, however it masks a revolution which is already underway. In practical terms, storage is having a huge impact already and across all areas of Solarcentury’s business.

As a prime example, IKEA has now launched an energy storage offer in partnership with Solarcentury in which homeowners can purchase a battery alongside solar PV. Batteries help homeowners to further reduce their bills through increasing consumption of solar and allowing the electricity generated to be used at night. One of our first customers was consuming so little grid electricity that they received a call from their energy company asking if there was something wrong!

Research into energy storage is already strong in the UK. Solarcentury has recently partnered with researchers from Loughborough University to model the benefit that storage has for homeowners. This allows us to predict, for each customer, the appropriate sized battery and to model their returns. The work done by Loughborough is incredibly relevant to the solar industry as the value of solar self-consumption increases and as customers become increasingly concerned about reducing their ever-rising electricity bills.

Whole system modelling of energy storage is being undertaken by Imperial and Durham Universities whilst Newcastle University is undertaking ground-breaking research into the interaction of storage with power networks. Storage has a vital national role and let’s not forget that the UK is one of the biggest global markets for energy storage, as evidenced by National Grid’s tender last year for over 200MW of battery storage to provide services to grid.

In East Africa, Solarcentury has recently launched a project to construct what are believed to be the biggest batteries in East Africa. The combination of solar and storage will be installed as an alternative to providing an expensive mains electricity link to two remote villages in the Eritrea. Energy storage and solar, which is quick to deploy and relies only on local fuel sources (the sun) are clearly strategically advantageous as countries seek to grow and address the huge challenge of providing reliable, clean and cheap electricity to remote communities.

In the UK there is an increasing need for the Government to quickly enact the changes to support these growing industries. Coal now provides less than 8% of our electrical energy. There are times when solar provides over 25% of our power and earlier this year we briefly saw over 80% of British electricity coming from low carbon sources.

With records for low carbon generation seemingly being broken every week, the impetus for UK Government action gets stronger and stronger. In all countries, storage and flexibility are becoming strategic partners with solar power. We all appreciate that storage and flexibility are vital to supporting the decarbonisation of our various energy sectors; however there are immediate regulatory barriers to it achieving its full value in a smart grid. These need to be removed quickly if the Government’s vision set out this week is to become a reality sooner rather than later.

In summary, we know that even today storage offers clear benefits to most of our customers. We are also keen that those benefits can be maximised across a smart grid so that the growth of low carbon technologies can continue to exceed even the most optimistic forecasts. With award winning energy storage engineers, we are fully committed to that goal.