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ECA: It takes two

Image: Adobe Stock / Connect world

Paul Reeve, director of business, ECA discusses the next steps for batteries and why a winning combination of renewables and energy storage is the key to helping the UK transition to a low carbon economy, as well as opening up new opportunities for designers and installers.

It was reported this week that the UK’s renewable energy capacity overtook that of fossil fuels between July and September 2018 – the first time this has ever happened.

There are growing opportunities for contractors and service providers as renewable energy, battery storage and electric vehicles become the key components of a smarter, lower carbon UK grid.

A strong case

Increasingly, UK renewable energy delivers the cheapest, lowest carbon electrical energy available to the grid. By itself that would be impressive, but renewables and energy storage together offer a winning combination, allowing customers full flexibility to use and export ‘carbon free’ electrical energy.  

In addition to lower energy bills (notably by storing solar energy for export to the grid when grid charges are high), business exposure to short-term fluctuations in prices via half hourly metering can be minimised by combining renewables and storage.

Even more value can be derived from offering useful grid balancing services and providing uninterrupted power (UPS) replacement. As a result, more clients are responding to stand-alone or ‘stacked’ value propositions that deliver a business case for installing, maintaining and even upgrading renewables/storage systems. This means increasing opportunities for designers and installers, and those who can understand and present the business case itself.

Are batteries at grid parity?

The short answer is no, but it seems we are well on the way. As the whole-life cost/kWh of battery storage converges with the whole life cost of buying grid electricity, there will be many more opportunities for systems designers, installers and service providers. 

The economics of battery storage and market drivers are complex, but some commentators suggest that convergence could happen before 2025, with an increasing number of commercial opportunity ‘hot spots’ before then, notably in the commercial and public sectors.

Batteries still only comprise a small part of the UK’s energy storage capacity, but they are expected become far more importantin the near future, as costs continue to fall. In December 2017, the Energy Storage APPG headlined that an impressive 12GW of UK battery storage alone could be achieved by 2022, if the government can remove market and regulatory barriers.

Batteries offer excellent capabilities (e.g. around x10 faster and more precise service response to the grid, compared to turbine generators) and they are relatively easy and flexible to deploy.  

Lithium-ion batteries currently dominate the growing market, offering high discharge and recharge rates (ideal for frequency response). However, there are other battery types, with different costs, applications and limitations: not all batteries are suited to delivering power or frequency response, and some are much better at bulk energy storage (e.g. Vanadium flow batteries).

EVs take the stage

Up to nine million electric vehicles (EVs) – essentially sizable mobile batteries – are expected to be on UK roads by 2030. This strongly underlines the need for major UK investments in charging infrastructure, along with changes in public sector, commercial and domestic electrical energy demand and supply.

Whether in buildings or wider infrastructure, the nation’s EV charging capacity will need to become very smart indeed to support the grid, rather than be a major new – and entirely unstainable – drain.  Smart energy systems will need to incentivise ‘vehicle to grid’ technology, allowing EV electrical energy to be sold to the network during peak demand, and possibly providing other grid services.  

Once again, the growth in EVs implies new and sophisticated installation and commissioning, along with maintenance and even upgrading. Vehicle charging technology is unlikely to stand still and nascent ‘flash charging’ technology – offering vehicle charging in tens of minutes rather than hours, may herald the upgrade of even the fastest charging installations currently available.

In August 2018, the government’s latest consultation on how to get the best from renewables, storage and EVs pointed to tumbling system prices but also to the urgent need for much smarter deployment of these technologies. 

ECA is currently working with partners and members to identify and develop the skills and industry standards that will help members to be at the forefront of the UK’s smart, distributed and low carbon energy bonanza.  

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