The UK plans to build a larger battery to store renewable energy - but there is a much cheaper solution

Britain's power system is undergoing significant and rapid changes. It has the largest installed capacity for offshore wind, which has effectively stopped making electricity from coal and has recorded a 20% drop in demand since the start of the COVID-19 epidemic.

However, this transition from traditional, reliable coal to weather-dependent wind and solar generation adds to the challenges of immediate supply and demand every moment. This is where large grid-scale energy storage systems can help control and buffer supply and demand, and improve grid control.

The UK government recently announced the removal of planning barriers for the construction of more than 50MW of energy storage projects in England and 350MW in Wales. This, the government feels, will be able to create significant new energy storage capacity. The UK currently has 1GW of operational battery storage units and an additional 13.5GW of battery projects under development at the planning level.

This intervention by the government creates a planning environment that could enable Britain to reach its target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This can occur on a large scale, with a high proportion of centralized renewable generation or more of priority. 

Small community schemes such as locally owned wind turbines and solar panels. The batteries, in particular, will contribute significantly to grid regulation of offshore wind by 3030 (to achieve the UK target of 40GW of offshore wind by that year ahead).

But ever larger, stationary battery systems may not be the optimal solution for the renewable energy future for the UK. Instead, the north can be located in garages and car parks in the country.

As the UK has moved from fossil fuel to renewable energy electricity generation, CO from emissions from the energy supply sector has fallen from 40% of the UK total in 1990 to 25% in 2019. This means that the transport sector is now the largest emitter, producing one-third of all UK CO₂ emissions.

It has focused on the introduction of plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. As only one in ten cars sold in the UK falls into these categories, there is still some way to reduce the impact of petrol and diesel vehicles. Significantly more infrastructure is needed to support them, and their increasing popularity increases the amount of electricity that the grid needs to provide, one-third of which is still generated from natural gas.

The smiling man plugs into the electric car.
To store excess energy, electric vehicles can be used as a storage device. However, electric vehicles can help make electricity generation greener. When an electric vehicle is plugged into re-charge, it effectively enables the power grid to reach its battery.

When you have multiple vehicles all plugged together, they create a very large aggregated battery store. This is a concept known as a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) and can create much larger and cheaper alternative energy stores than stable battery systems.

There are 38.2m licensed vehicles in the UK, including some 31.5m cars. If all these batteries were electric vehicles (each with average storage of 50kWh energy and connected via a 7kW charger), it could make a nationwide distributed mega battery with a capacity of 220.5GW. This would be 15 times the size of large battery storage currently employed.

Cheaper alternative

Instead of allowing government and private investors to spend millions on large projects, the owners of individual vehicles will buy cars and batteries, as it will also be much easier to bear the cost of this collected battery. The cost of electric vehicle batteries has fallen some 87% over the last ten years to an average of $ 87 / kWh (£ 123 / kWh) and is on a trajectory to reach the US $ 100 / kWh by 2023.

The cost of a large grid-scale stationary battery system is at least twice this amount. The reason for this is that civil engineering works, cabling, enclosures, power electronics, and even air conditioning systems for regulating battery temperature are all required for large stationary battery systems.

Vehicle-to-grid storage is still a nascent concept. This requires dedicated two-way charging equipment that can communicate with vehicles as well as high-level aggregator control systems. Although all this technology exists.

There are actually a series of V2G demonstrative projects within the UK. Nissan, in particular, has adopted this technology and already offers a more limited_ vehicle-to-home (V2H) system that allows people to use their cars to store energy from rooftop solar panels as long as That it is not needed in the house at night.

So while the UK government is correct that the national grid needs more energy storage to support the shift to further renewable energy generation, it is not necessary to focus on building large, expensive batteries. Instead, electric vehicles could easily help the British public share their car so as to create a cleaner, more altruistic post-Covid world.

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