Energy storage and the electrification of the energy grid

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In our latest column from BEAMA, Portfolio Manager Chris Stammers addresses the crucial future role of energy storage.

What stands between us and the zero-carbon future to which we are committed, is possibly the greatest challenge that UK Industry has ever faced. At BEAMA, our members manufacturer the building blocks of our electricity system for the grid and the built environment.

We are total supporters of the net zero objective, both in ensuring  affordable, just and timely application to the market, and in supporting our members  to reduce their own emissions. One such member is Dimplex, a leader for 75 years in the UK electric heating market and a company whose products have played a central role in the adoption of nuclear generation. Dimplex is working now alongside our other members on the innovations needed to bring about the next revolution in our energy market.

The UK has pledged to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and to do that it will need to dramatically increase its use of natural renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, to reduce the UK’s economic reliance on carbon emitting energy sources such as oil, natural gas, and coal.

As an industry we must support this transition as today, electricity generation must be largely matched to energy usage. The UK grid could not be solely supported by wind and solar generation as these natural energy resources do not provide a consistent volume of energy, nor can their variations be matched easily to those of our energy demand, which can be highly variable in its daily, weekly, and seasonal fluctuations.

This means higher carbon electricity generation from coal or gas-fired electricity plants is needed at peak electricity demand times, whilst a few hours later, renewable wind generation may be curtailed because there are consistent winds and no requirement for their energy.

Effective storage

Where peaks cannot be met in the UK, power cuts may become more common. Given the UK’s commitment to make the electricity grid carbon neutral by 2035, it seems obvious that effective storage of excess power during times of low demand and high production is needed to address this challenge.

Through creating a market for electrical storage products of all types we will also create space on the grid for a much greater number of device connections – helping to accelerate the electrification not just of domestic buildings, but of businesses, transportation, and other UK industry sectors. In short, the more we store, the more we can connect, and that’s good for everyone.  The additional benefit for energy consumers is that through introducing this level of flexible energy storage and use at the building level, they can achieve substantial bill savings.

Energy storage is not a new concept, but modern levels of storage with improved control and grid connectivity provides the platform for managing energy system supply and demand.  There are an increasing number of flexible storage technologies coming to market, along with an increasing range of demand-side response tariffs.

It is a developing industry, with many commercial and domestic solutions. However, we have been working with Dimplex and the BEAMA Electric Heating and Hot Water and Smart Building Groups to focus specifically on how developing our existing thermal storage battery network will allow for the development of flexible energy markets to support the UK’s decarbonisation agenda.

A national thermal store

A dense ‘national thermal store’ in the form of hot water tanks, smart storage heaters and many other technologies would mean electrification of heat in buildings could take place in a way that best uses current generation and transmission capabilities. Whilst we will surely need to expand our generation and transmission capabilities in the future, such a battery would mean we can start electrifying buildings more quickly today, rolling out more heat pumps and being far more likely to reach our targets.

Thanks to a period of intense innovation across the BEAMA membership, these technologies already exist, and the thermal energy stored in homes distributed around the UK already provides more than six times the energy storage potential of the UK’s largest pumped storage facility, the Dinorwig Hydro-electric plant.

The flexible energy market that they create produces revenue, which in turn enable the utilities to trade energy using the data created by the smart meters, smart devices and ‘virtual power plants’ that local generation and demand flexibility provide – and this will be passed on in part to the consumers whose technology and modified (automated) behaviours make it all possible. As this model grows, even the smallest incremental attachment is a net gain which can be rewarded for the storage or moving of electrical load.

Questions we should ask

The common question is ‘how do we generate more energy?’ This is a question that must be answered. However, first we should ask:

  1. How do we use less energy?
  2. How do we store more energy?
  3. How can we shift the timing of demand for energy?

As an industry, we are seeking to accelerate electrification on the path to Net Zero and in order to do this effectively we need to promote the right products; innovate with our supply tariff offers; and ensure the consumer receives the right advice and propositions to fit their needs.

The electrification of heat and energy will be one of the key topics at the InstallerSHOW on 25th-27th June, for which BEAMA is a partner. Register for FREE tickets here: installer-2024-splash.reg.buzz