Future energy storage: giant grid batteries

Around the globe, mass energy storage and distribution is becoming of greater and greater interest as the world moves more towards renewable but more intermittent forms of energy production, such as wind and solar.

By finding a way to store large amounts of energy, the UK could move from the current supply-must-meet-demand system to one where produced energy is stored up and distributed when and where it’s needed. This would allow the UK to decouple its energy generation from its usage and hugely benefit the country’s energy security.

Britain’s first two-megawatt lithium-titanate battery is due to be connected to the grid as part of a trial process to work out how best to deal with the challenges of storing energy on an industrial scale. The aim of the project is to test the economic and technological challenges of using giant batteries to support the electrical grid. Battery packs from electrical vehicles are also being considered for re-use as a way to lower the cost of energy storage.

The lithium-titanate battery was chosen over its well-known contemporary the lithium ion battery due to its faster charge time, longer lifespan and reduced fire risk. It will be the largest battery of its type to have been installed in the UK.

The research into using these batteries on a commercial energy scale has been undertaken in order to reassure companies that using them to store their own excess energy from renewable sources is a viable option. Many companies have considered this option, but many have not gone through with it due to uncertainties about how effectively they will work.

Installing such a large battery will also allow companies to see results comparable to their own expected usage, bridging the gap between the small lab-based experiments and real-world use. The battery is due to begin operating in February 2015.

Employing large scale batteries as part of the electrical grid would mean less generators need to be left on standby to deal with sudden peaks in demand. However, it remains unclear how this could be managed commercially. The current research hopes to provide the answers to this question by operating in an restrained but typical operating environment.