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Is battery technology the key to a sustainable future?

23 April 2021

The future of sustainable, clean energy relies on renewables. Unfortunately, that comes with a problem. Solar and wind are cheap forms of electricity but they rely on the right conditions to work. This sort of intermittent power cannot provide enough energy to completely reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. The electricity supply needs to be consistent, reliable and capable of handling surges in demand. That is where battery technology comes in.

unlocking renewable power

Energy storage is fundamental to unlocking the true potential of renewables. Currently, most providers rely on fossil fuels and nuclear power for the bulk of their supply, especially at peak times. Renewables are largely used to smooth out some of the spikes in demand but are not predictable enough to handle the majority of our usage. Supply has to meet demand in real-time.

While they may be harmful to the planet, fossil fuel plants can dial production up or down in response to demand. This is not the case with renewable sources. Without an increase in power storage, national supply is likely to become increasingly volatile. This could lead to more blackouts and an increase in non-commodity charges for balancing the network. 

The Government has already committed to extending the renewables network which will inevitably be supported by the installation of power storage facilities. Yet, while this will help the country meet its net-zero goals, it will not do much to lower your expenses. For that we have to look at the other side of the meter and what your business can do to support this initiative.

how batteries can help your business

Installing onsite power storage is a relatively simple process. Thanks to improvements in technology, it has become viable and cost-effective for most businesses. Having your own storage batteries guarantees a continuous source of power regardless of what is happening to the network. But there are more benefits than just protecting yourself from power cuts. Depending on the type of storage you choose, there are ways to reduce your energy bills and help stabilise the grid. 

Energy use at peak times can be expensive. Especially as it can have a huge effect on non-commodity costs. Being able to buy energy when it is at its cheapest and use it when needed  could make a huge difference to utility bills.

behind the meter savings

Battery storage also enables you to become a demand-side supplier and allows you to sell excess energy back to the grid, helping to balance the system and smooth out peaks in demand. This sort of initiative is a fundamental part of the governments’ ongoing energy strategy. Similar opportunities are likely to follow as we move towards 2050.

This means that installing a storage battery can guarantee your supply, cut costs and even make a profit. But what sort of battery is best for your business? With technology breakthroughs coming thick and fast it can be hard to make sense of what is on offer. Here are a few types of battery you might want to consider. 

lithium-ion vs solid-state

Most people have a lithium-ion battery powering their portable devices. While they are an improvement on older alkaline batteries, they do have their issues. The core of the battery uses liquid electrolytes. This means they are vulnerable to extremes of temperature and have a relatively short lifespan. There have been many incidents of large lithium-ion batteries catching fire. 

This problem with degradation in lithium-ion cells makes them unsustainable for larger grid use. As batteries charge and discharge a chemical reaction occurs. Over time this damages the inside of the cells and reduces their efficiency.

Solid-state batteries use a solid electrolyte. This gives them a higher energy density. It allows them to be lighter, smaller and last longer. The advantages here are obvious. Longer lasting batteries will not need replacing so often. This not only cuts down on initial costs but also reduces our waste output. Lithium battery recycling has become a growing concern across the world. The cost is set to rise as our current generation of devices comes to the end of their lives. 

AGM power

Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) batteries are an older technology than lithium-ion but can be more reliable. They are cheaper, less vulnerable to damage and can be used in freezing temperatures. This dependability is the product of extensive testing and development. Compared to AGM, lithium is in its infancy. The downside is that AGM batteries are more sensitive to deep discharging. They make good backup batteries but for everyday use, lithium-ion is far more popular. 

the next generation

Research and testing are underway worldwide to find the next breakthrough in batteries. The main contenders currently are thermal storage and liquid flow. Neither technology has reached a financially viable price point yet.

Thermal storage uses excess power generation from renewables to heat the batteries core material. The higher the temperature, the better the storage potential. Silicon is a popular choice as it is an abundant material and can be heated to incredibly high temperatures. When electricity is needed, the system pumps hot air out of the battery which drives an expander that generates electricity. This heat can also be used for district heating systems, further reducing our power needs.

Liquid flow batteries work on a very similar principle to current lithium-ion storage. By separating the chemicals inside the battery, they reduce the risk of damage and increase life span. Rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel, this technology simply tries to improve what know works. While they may be more stable and long-lasting than lithium-ion, liquid flow does not solve the problem of capacity. Neither technology can get beyond 4-5 hours of supply per battery yet.

There are many other potential solutions including graphene nanotechnology and gravity-based storage systems. Hydrogen fuel cell development has gained the support of governments and policymakers around the world. This looks to be another vital part of our ongoing network development.

The other key component in the puzzle is how we use electricity. The sort of indiscriminate power use that was manageable under fossil fuel generation just will not be possible with renewables alone. This is where smart devices can help. Reducing our usage by automatically turning off unnecessary devices.

how we can help your business

At Smith Bellerby, we offer a range of services tailored to your organisation’s needs. Starting with an energy audit, we can provide a clear picture of your usage patterns and recommend sustainable solutions to cut costs and reduce emissions. Energy prices can be unpredictable and it’s easy to end up paying more than you need to. Our team have the experience to negotiate the best rates possible with your supplier. 

We can help you install a bespoke battery storage solution that meets your needs. This can help you maximise efficiency, lower your energy costs, cut carbon emissions and reduce strain on your local network. 

If you would like more information on battery storage or want to discuss lowering your energy bills, get in touch today.

Andy Scrimshaw
Author
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