Opinion: We are nearly at the point where renewables can stand on their own feet – The Energy Disruption Series

 

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Thanks to decentralised energy storage solutions like the Tesla Powerwall we are getting closer to the day when renewables can stand on their own feet. Photo credit: Tesla.

 

The Energy Disruption Series is a new feature from A greener life, a greener world, in which we will shine a light on many of the disruptive forces underway in the energy and technology industries which are changing the way we use energy.

By Anders Lorenzen

I have previously written, that in order to optimise the use of renewables, baseload power is needed. To some degree, I still believe that to be true, and I believe in the UK we do need a certain proportion of gas power and nuclear to combine with renewables in the coming years. But in the coming decades that will become less and less necessary, and some recent trends are responsible for that positive change.

It is really a maths issue, as the need for baseload power is the simple issue of intermittent renewables. The generating levels of renewables can rapidly increase and decrease in the short space of an hour. Therefore the move towards an electricity system based on 100% renewables, needs energy storage and interconnector capacity. The easiest way to move one individual country towards renewables is of course storage. And with the rollout of interconnector collaboration between several countries, this can be a tricky process, to say the least.

I’m happy to say that remarkably both interconnectors and energy storage is rapidly moving forward in the UK. (I will start with energy storage, and move onto interconnectors in the next part).

What I’m talking about here is perhaps not the kind of energy storage we had expected but, nevertheless, it could present us with disruption on a mass scale. I had thought that to move forward on energy storage we would need mass industrial power plant storage. Centralised power plant energy storage is starting to happen, but is painfully slow with still very little capacity. So let’s forget about this for a while and instead turn our attention towards decentralised storage in the shape of Tesla’s Powerwall.

As more and more people in the UK have invested in solar panels, a second investment for instance, in a Tesla Powerwall, could in a significant way reduce their reliance on the national grid. And in some cases perhaps people could even become completely independent of the grid. The electric car enthusiast and geek, Robert Llewellyn, – yes, the one out of Red Dwarf – did an experiment in his home using his solar capacity, a Tesla Powerwall and his electric car featured on his YouTube show Fully Charged.

He explained that on some days he could charge the battery and his electric car during the day, while at night he would use the battery to power his home. This was obviously during the summer and would be different during the winter with fewer hours of sunshine, colder weather and more storms.

But here, in theory, the powerwall could have a different effect in balancing out the grid. In the evening and during the night, where electricity consumption is lower and where the generation share of wind power is likely to be higher, the powerwall could charge using the larger share of wind power. In the day both homes and businesses could use the charged powerwall to power homes and other operations at least for some of the time, taking pressure off the grid and making greater use of renewables. Due to sudden spikes in renewables generation, much capacity has been lost, because the grid has not been able to send it anywhere.

And on some occasions, wind turbines have had to be shut down which is a terrible waste of clean energy. At the moment, in the UK, not enough people own powerwalls to make a significant difference. But a large army of powerwall owners could play a huge role in acting as Britain’s battery, and in return reward themselves with more value for money.

So far Tesla’s Powerwall version is the most popular, but several others have been launched such as the one From Nissan, and expect in the coming years to see many more enter the market.

 

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2 responses to “Opinion: We are nearly at the point where renewables can stand on their own feet – The Energy Disruption Series

  1. I think the costs of domestic electricity storage systems is prohibitive at the moment Anders, but companies like Ikea & Sonnen are starting to offer some interesting deals that enable them to act as an aggregator, managing a large portfolio of domestic storage (and generation) systems to ‘smooth’ generation and demand real time and sell their consumers electricity at tariffs to recover both the capital costs of the battery / solar panels as well as the electricity they consume from the grid, thus avoiding the prohibitive (for most people) up front capital costs of buying a solar pv + battery storage + EV system

    There is a lot of potential for ‘demand response’ not only at industrial levels (cold storage sites for example can switch off their electricity demand at very short notice for hours at a time without the temperature of their facilities rising to a level that puts the products stored there at risk) but also at domestic levels (a ‘smart’ dishwasher, washing machine, freezer, fridge etc can monitor excess generation (from wind or solar pv) and switch on to absorb this & to run their cycles when there is an excess of electricity being generated

    We’ve a very long way to go to be able to function with only ‘green’ energy generation, but the technology is already here to make it a reality, its just extremely expensive at the moment

    The UK does have some unique natural resources that can generate renewable energy as baseload (wave motion, tidal flows) in addition to the intermittent wind and solar pv, but also significant challenges from being so far north where demand is much higher in the winter months which is exactly when generation (especially solar) is at its lowest. Perhaps converting excess summer generation into hydrogen and storing it in the existing natural gas grid for use in winter would be a way to ‘balance’ the seasonal imbalance?

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    • Hi Paul, thanks for your very detailed response. I agree that the costs are high at the moment and we would need massive investment at scale to bring the cost down. But I was making a point about the technological possibility which I believe you agree is there. We for sure have a long way to go but it is positive we can now go there. We can now realisticly imagine a future where no baseload energy is needed, but of course it will take a while before we build up the infrastructure needed. More companies putting out products in this field will only speed it up. If you know of any products and resources I did not mention please do send them to me. Finally, I agree with you on the potential for not only hydrogen storage but also the hydrogen economy. I will focus on this point in a future post.

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