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Giant batteries connected to the grid

Giant batteries connected to the grid: the future of energy storage?

The UK’s first two-megawatt lithium-titanate battery might solve the challenges of industrial-scale energy storage

Dani Strickland
The Guardian, Friday 14 November 2014 10.17 GMT

Across the world, efforts are underway to improve the way we store and distribute energy, as we move towards more sustainable but intermittent forms of energy generation, such as wind and solar power.

Improving the way we store energy is important for the UK’s energy security, as it will allow us to decouple energy generation and its usage. If we can find a better way to store energy it will allow us to save it when it’s generated and use it when it’s required, replacing our current awkward system where generation has to match demand in real time.

The UK’s first two-megawatt (MW) lithium-titanate battery is to be connected to the energy grid as part of a new research project to tackle the challenges of industrial-scale energy storage. The project aims to test the technological and economic challenges of using giant batteries to provide support to the grid. We’ll also test whether used battery packs from electric vehicles can be given a second life, and applied in hybrid systems to lower the cost of storage.

The lithium-titanate battery was chosen because it is faster to charge, longer lasting and much safer to use than its common alternative, lithium ion – particularly in terms of the reduced fire risk. It will be the largest battery of its type installed in the UK.

Some companies are already considering installing large batteries in their own premises, mainly for storing excess electricity from renewable sources, but their high capital costs and the uncertainties over how they might work commercially has meant uptake of the technology is still very slow. Our research aims to answer some of these questions and prove the viability of this new technology.

The scale of this project will allow results to be recorded at a credible industrial scale, as opposed to typical laboratory prototypes, and hence bridge the gap between academic research and industrial needs. Due to be in operation from February 2015, it will facilitate testing of viable technology prototypes at a level where future scaling will be de-risked, and at a scale ready for actual operation.

Large scale batteries could reduce the need to keep energy generators on standby to respond to peaks in demand, but it’s still unclear how this might be best managed commercially. Our research will be able to explore the advantages of grid-connected energy storage in a typical operating environment but without commercial constraints. We can assess how the technology fits in with our existing energy structures ensuring faster adoption by the sector to help improve how the grid functions and its overall stability. Once we know how it works, businesses will be able to follow our lead.

Dr Dani Strickland is a lecturer in engineering and applied science at Aston University. The project involves partners including the Universities of Sheffield, Aston and Southampton, the Engineering and Physical Sciences research Council, TSB, the Department of Energy & Climate Chnage, G&P Batteries, Energy Cost Advisors, Renault, Tata Motors European Technical Centre, Toshiba, Western Power Distribution, ABB Group, Portastor, Sterling Power Utilities, Converter Technology and Alpha Construction.

This article is part of the Guardian’s #bigenergydebate series.

http://www.theguardian.com/big-energy-debate/2014/nov/14/giant-batteries...