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Smart Energy Revolution for Britain

NuClearNewsNo98, August 2017  The Government and Ofgem have published their strategy for a modernised, smart and flexible power system. The 32-page document by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) looks at how a smarter energy system will create opportunities to reduce energy costs, increase productivity and put UK businesses in a leading position to export smart energy technology and services to the rest of the world. The plan aims to facilitate a smarter grid through a series of technical and regulatory changes. (1)


A study by Imperial College and the Carbon Trust, which was commissioned by BEIS, estimates that between £17bn and £40bn could be saved by 2050 if technologies such as battery storage and demand side response become more widespread. New rules will make it easier for people to generate their own power with solar panels, store it in batteries and sell it to the National Grid. The rules are due to come into effect over the next year. They will reduce costs for someone who allows their washing machine to be turned on by the internet to maximise use of cheap solar power on a sunny afternoon. And they will even support people who agree to have their freezers switched off for a few minutes to smooth demand at peak times. They’ll also benefit a business that allows its airconditioning to be turned down briefly to help balance a spell of peak energy demand on the National Grid. Thanks to improvements in digital technology, battery storage and renewables, these innovations in flexibility are already under way with millions of people across the UK generating and storing electricity. So instead of predicting peak demand then building power stations to meet it, energy managers will be able to trade in Negawatts – negative electricity. (2)


The Government will invest £246m in battery technology that it says will be a key pillar in helping to power its industrial strategy. In its first major move to support the nascent battery revolution, the Government will set up a “battery institute” to award hundreds of millions of pounds to companies on the brink of major research and development breakthroughs. Greg Clarke underlined the importance of “cutting -edge energy plans”, which include battery power and electric, driverless vehicles.


The rapidly falling cost of battery power is expected to radically change the way Britain is able to make use of its renewable energy generation, by storing excess wind and solar for when wind speeds slip and sunshine wanes. Battery technology is already ushering in major upheaval for automotive industries and fuel retailers by accelerating the boom in electric vehicles. (3)


“You almost need to draw a line under what has come before [with energy markets] and start again” says Nick Boyle, the founder of Europe’s largest solar operator Lightsource. “There is no doubt that batteries completely and utterly metamorphose the market in that they make the uncontrollable controllable. It makes the arguments against renewable energy fall away,”


The new energy reality is not simply about consumers taking power from generators, but means the roles of producer and consumer will flip and, in some cases, merge. Lightsource is already pairing solar panels with battery packs to allow customers to effectively become their own energy market. Solar panels create energy which can be used at cheaper rates than electricity from the main grid, or stored in the battery to use later. If the battery and electric vehicle are both charged a Lightsource customer could sell their power back to the grid. By creating a network of households and businesses which can generate power and reduce demand, Lightsource could create a string of virtual low-carbon power plants.


“We’ve always said that we would like to equip a million homes with solar panels and batteries. If you use a 4kW panel that would be 4GW of capacity,” says Boyle. This is the equivalent scale of Hinkley Point C plus a gas-fired power plant, but only when the sun shines. “But if you add a 6kW battery you’ve created an extra 6GW of storable electricity which could be used to balance the grid.”


“It’s not about hardware anymore. It’s about software. And this can move at such an incredible pace and will only get quicker,” says Boyle. “It seems like we’re offering something impossible. But this is only because many are still using a yardstick of how they bought energy in the past. You almost need to draw a line under what has come before and start again.” (4)


“This government’s record on energy has been incompetent to the point of derision or despair, depending on how much you care about it” says Stuart Elmes, CEO of Viridian Solar. But finally the Government is showing signs that it gets it.


Greg Clarke. Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) is talking about nothing less than the coming revolution in energy, one that has become evident to many working in the renewables sector, but has until now been just a little too far over the horizon for the politicians to ‘get’. A combination of key technologies – solar, wind, and energy storage coupled with a real-time energy market driven by information technology are maturing and the impact will be extraordinary.


Solar panels and wind turbines have a complementary output profile and a combination of both will even out seasonal energy production in northern climates such as the UK. Energy will be stored in and released from large batteries – including those in electric vehicles – to meet shorter term peaks in demand and troughs in supply. Real-time electricity pricing will allow internet enabled appliances to turn on or regulate down following pricing signals to smooth out demand to better match supply.


What we’re looking at is a fundamental shift from an energy system based on resources to one founded on technology. The inflexion point is coming and it’s now no longer a question of whether the oil age will end, but how soon it will come. So, two cheers for Greg Clarke, it looks like he’s got the vision, competent implementation to support a smart grid will now be the key to the UK taking advantage of the coming energy revolution. (5)


August 2, 2017 - Posted by | ENERGY, UK

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