The United Kingdom has no clear government policy on energy storage and offers no major incentives to companies and no subsidies at all to households to install energy storage. To date, only paltry sums have been invested in energy storage projects there.
And yet, many are feeling optimistic about where the storage industry is headed.
Several major manufacturers have either launched domestic solar-storage products in the U.K. in the last six months, or are planning to do so sometime this year. In the last week, the U.K. Renewable Energy Association has launched a new trade body dedicated to commercializing energy storage. The U.K. Electricity Storage Network is expecting a Minister from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to participate in its annual meeting.
And to crown it all, the U.K. currently has the biggest battery in Europe.
So is storage really taking off? To date, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Global Energy Storage Database, the Brits currently have a grand total of 32 projects, providing 3,300 megawatts of storage, of which the vast majority comes from pumped hydro. Around 62 megawatts are (or soon will be) provided by batteries and 5 megawatts by mainly uninterruptible power supply flywheel systems. There are also experimental compressed air, cryogenic thermal and flow battery projects ongoing.
That 3,300-megawatt total compares quite favorably with 7,600 megawatts in Germany and 6,560 megawatts in California, a state with similar energy requirements to the U.K. But there's a push for much more.
“Storing energy will become increasingly important in the move toward a low-carbon economy, and has the potential to save the energy system over £4 billion [$6 billion] by 2050," said DECC Minister Greg Barker last year.
The DECC has also stated that the energy storage market is forecast to reach $17 billion in 2020, and to be nearly $30 billion in 2030.
Some argue that energy storage can help save consumers money by possibly reducing new grid buildout.
Anthony Price, director of the Electricity Storage Network, explains: “[The UK electricity and natural gas regulator] Ofgem has calculated that it will cost £50 billion [$76 billion] to rewire Britain. This will be to provide flexibility in the grid and allow the integration of more renewables, add resilience to the grid, and to improve energy efficiency across the grid. If you look at energy storage, it can help meet all three of those requirements. So we can spend £50 billion on rewiring the country, or we can have more energy storage.”
Price’s organization is lobbying for a minimum 2,000 megawatts of new network-connected electricity storage by the year 2020. A fairly modest figure, this represents less than 10 percent of the predicted increase in renewable generation capacity over the same time period. The question still remains whether the U.K. government will take investment in energy storage seriously. Price notes that while the current administration is happy to “pick winners” by promoting solar and wind, it refuses to do so in the case of storage.
On the other hand, it has provided a modest £50 million ($76 billion) in backing for research projects around the country. The most prominent of these is the Smarter Network Storage project, better known as the biggest battery in Europe. A 6-megawatt/10-megawatt-hour system, the battery is designed to explore alternative revenue streams for storage, while deferring traditional network reinforcement.
Numerous early-stage projects have emerged. Highview Power won funding for a demonstration of its liquid air storage technology. REDT is developing a vanadium redox flow battery for storing wind and wave power in Scotland. And Isentropic is building a demonstration project for its cryogenic energy storage technology.
Domestic solar-plus-storage is also taking off in the U.K. Last September, SMA launched its Sunny Boy Smart Energy PV inverter and battery system. Sharp followed suit at the end of last year by offering a solar-and-storage device that uses Samsung batteries. Bosch is hoping for certification of a solar-storage inverter next month, and various other solar players, such as ReneSola of China, seem to be clamoring to enter the U.K. market.
These companies could be looking to cash in on growth in U.K. solar installations. While much of the European solar market has suffered from a slowdown last year, Britain helped keep the overall picture a little rosier, with an estimated 3.2 gigawatts of PV installed in 2014.
One solution for boosting domestic supply of residential storage systems is to leverage vehicle battery manufacturers, said Frank Gordon of the newly launched energy storage section of the U.K.’s Renewable Energy Association.
"The U.K. is home to one of the only electric-vehicle battery plants in the world, the Nissan plant in Tyneside. These car batteries could offer good potential for small-scale energy storage applications," said Gordon.
In the meantime, storage supporters like Gordon are looking for clearer support signals from the government.
“As solar storage is still a developing technology, the need to establish a policy and technical framework for it to operate within is paramount," he said.
Mike Stone is the news editor and social media manager for the Energy Storage Report, a weekly newsletter and website devoted to the energy storage industry.