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Winds of change for energy storage
The UK energy system looks set for a wind and solar revolution after plans for eight huge energy storage systems were announced last week.
Energy generated from wind turbines and solar panels is cleaner and safer than alternatives like coal and nuclear.
But the problem with wind and solar has always been that if the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine then nothing is gained – until now.
Cheap and clean energy storage is seen as the holy grail of energy infrastructure. And although the British plan is still quite small scale, it represents a good first step on the road to making renewable energy a realistic alternative to dirtier energy generation.
Renewable energy no accounts for 25 per cent of Britain’s energy balance sheet, up from 9 per cent in 2011.
The battery storage plan will help wind and solar farms store the electricity they produce intermittently so that they can behave more like conventional power plants.
The eight new battery storage contracts, awarded to the likes of France’s EDF and Germany’s Eon, will upgrade the UK’s power grid to help it cope with the new age sources of power.
At £66 million, analysts say this is the biggest deal of its size in Europe. The National Grid believes that it will help them address some of the underlying issues in the nation’s power infrastructure and, in the future, help deliver the kind of flexibility that is necessary for a renewable centric system.
As battery systems and other energy storage solutions get cheaper, and more efficient the potential for renewable energy gets bigger and bigger.
Analysts suggest that as storage costs approach the magical figure of $100 per kilowatt hour, the benefits of the technology begin to outweigh the benefits of other technologies. In particular, costly ‘baseload’ power plants like the proposed Hinkley Point, which are less flexible and require longer commitments, could become a thing of the past once the technology catches up.
Some experts believe that this technology could be between five and ten years away from realisation.