Battery power could be the bridging solution in the journey to net zero

When considering energy security says David Kyle, a rapid growth in battery storage in all our homes is likely.

 With rising energy bills affecting everyone, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine throwing the spotlight on energy supply security, its perhaps no surprise that investment in climate tech and renewables is at an all-time high – and growing. Such ongoing geopolitical issues have shored up the urgent need to transition to clean energy, not just for environmental issues, but for economic and political stability. 

Across the Eurozone, 2022 witnessed the installation of 47% more solar panels than in 2021.  

In 2022, worldwide investment in low-carbon energy technology reached a record level of US$1.1 trillion in 2022, according to a report from BloombergNEF, with the largest share going into renewable energy and electrified transport. 

China accounted for almost half of that global investment level, with some US$546 billion going into energy transition technologies. 

However, worldwide annual investment needs to be three times higher to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. 

Installing a new global sustainable power network will clearly take decades and trillions of dollars more investment – without even beginning to factor in shifting political ideologies.  

Time for climate action

While climate action is considered vital over the next decade, it’s the global economy’s biggest long-term challenge. But in a recent report, the World Economic Forum suggests combatting climate change has been put on the back burner in 2023 due to the global economic woes.  

The rising cost of living, energy and food supply chain issues, and national debt threaten to quash the collective will that’s clearly needed to address the climate crisis, the WEF report says. It says we are entering a low growth and low cooperation era, as nations bunker down to ride the economic storm as best as they can.  

But on a more individual level, are wind and solar currently enough to power all our homes, offices, factories?  The darkness of winter and long, windless days aren’t much help when you’re trying to generate enough power to fuel a nation.  

For that matter, the jury is still out regarding the predictions and policies for electric cars and the end of traditional petrol and diesel vehicles.  

While we know that private investment in renewables in the US hit an all-time high of $10 billion in 2022, thanks in part to tax credits, investment in a viable electric car charging network in major developed nations still seems woefully inadequate. 

Home-grown power

In the UK, the idea that renewables will be able to generate and move as much energy as we currently do through the national grid – via pipes, petrol tankers, oil distillation plants and ships, for example, still seems a long way off.  

Cynicism aside, it does seem that some immediate good has come from electric cars.  Specifically, the ability to store electricity when it’s cheap, save it for later, and then use it when it’s otherwise expensive to buy from the national grid. 

Lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4 batteries), for example, with development pushed by electric cars are very impressive. They have an energy density approaching older lithium cell technology, but far less of an “exothermic temper”.  For the few hundred pounds LiFePO4 battery cost (grade “B” electric car rejects), plus the cost of an inverter, I’ve built an experimental system that – except for the washing machine and cooker – will run my house for around seven hours while using computers, lights, fridges, freezers, TVs, and the central heating pumps pretty much as normal.  

For those interested, there are also commercial systems, but they are still quite expensive.  We are seeing more discussion of LiFePo4 batteries powering off-grid lifestyles, or for home power back-ups and microgrids.  

For the techies, my estimates are based on pulling maybe an average 2 Amps from the grid during a normal evening, and also based on moving to LED lighting (which is another story). 

Batteries at home

My prediction is a rapid growth in home battery electricity storage in all our homes. We can fill our own personal electricity reserves with solar energy when the sun is shining (via our roofs or the national grid), or indeed from the national grid when there is “cheaper” excess capacity (such as via the Economy 7 system).   

In fact, we’re already seeing the first signs of this with financial incentives to cut down energy consumption during peaks hours.  To my mind, it makes solar on our roofs far more attractive. For example, today it’s a beautiful sunny, but cold day outside, which is just the kind of weather solar cells like.  

But anything generated would be either wasted or dumped into the national grid at a feed-in tariff not necessarily very attractive to my wallet. It seems far better to keep the electricity generated during the day, use it tonight, save a good bit of cash, and watch Netflix safe in the knowledge that I’m doing it pollution free (well, at least on the client side, ignoring the cost to the planet to produce all my disposable consumer electronics, but again, that’s another story!) 

In the meantime, all those electric cars with a range of a few hundred miles when new might have a fraction of that range in a few years’ time, as the batteries age.  If only we had a use for all those older electric vehicle batteries with a still decent capacity, but not quite good enough for cars?