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Our Green Energy is being dumped. How can we stop this waste?


The implementation of large-scale energy storage devices is not part of the mainstream green-conversation. Despite green energy, quite rightly capturing the public’s attention, the media (and by extension the government) have done a woeful job of educating and proliferating the importance of energy storage mediums. I would almost go as far to argue we should feel as angry about a lack of energy storage as we would about a lack of wind farms. It is crucial that the government acts to include energy storage as part of its long-term plan to transition to a greener economy.


==== MINI SCIENCE LESSON ====


There is crucial detail many people are not aware of. Whatever the energy consumption of the UK is at any given time, the national grid has to provide that exact amount at exactly the right moment! Perhaps that sounds obvious; trivial even. If too little is produced clearly nothing would work. However, if there an excess of electricity is supplied, all our electronics would fry. The only possible answer is to dump / waste all excess generated energy. To compound matters, generating electricity is not instantaneous, with production times varying depending on the method. This means that it is always better to overproduce electricity, and waste whatever we do not need. To highlight this, the figure below outlines the timescales at which energy can be generated, indicating how inelastic to demand some methods are.

While you may already be familiar with renewable power sources, the final row in Figure 1 is in fact an example of energy storage. Water can be pumped from a lower reservoir into a higher one (when energy is cheap / in excess) and then unleashed back down when there is a spike in demand. A key feature of a general energy storage device is that they are can meet spikes in demand with ease.


==== MINI SCIENCE LESSON OVER ====


Renewable energy has become considerably cheaper over the past 30 years. So much so, even the Taliban [2] have been cashing in on solar panels to power their heroin production - you didn’t think they were being ecological, did you? This shows that saving the planet is not only for tree-huggers, but is something even business can get behind. This has only happened, though, because governments have slowly poured money into physics and engineering departments that turned a physics demonstration into a useable product. Overtime, the market has waded in with private investment; now both solar and wind technology are common place all over Europe. It’s tempting to think the problem is essentially solved. Yet the businesses responsible for putting up wind / solar farms tend to be specialised firms selling to the national grid, while the traditional major players in energy – with the deepest pockets - are lagging behind.

Electrical storage needs its own renaissance. In the business world, smoothness isn’t just valued; it is revered. This is where electrical storage would come in, making the market more equitable for investment into renewable power sources. Right now, the crux is that investing in renewables has too much volatility. The technology on its own is simply not practical. Energy storage helps to smooth out the wild peaks and troughs in demand, making the market a much more comfortable proposition for businesses. This in turn helps to keep wholesale prices down – benefitting everyone. Furthermore, if energy storage reserves were plentiful, we would need to generate less CO2 to meet the same electricity usage, which would help the government meet its 2050 carbon targets.


There are signs of hope! The government has already awarded £10m to construct the world’s first liquid air battery near Manchester [4], though this pioneering step has taken far too long to reach. Within the next decade, this type of infrastructure should be commonplace. It is time for this government to lead the way once again; not just within the UK, but on the worldwide stage.


By Seb Wilkes


References:

[1] Irena.org, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2019/Sep/IRENA_Flexibility_in_CPPs_2019.pdf?la=en&hash=AF60106EA083E492638D8FA9ADF7FD099259F5A1. [Accessed: 22- Nov- 2020].

[2] "What the heroin industry can teach us about solar power", BBC News, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-53450688. [Accessed: 22- Nov- 2020].

[3] "Basic economics of power generation, transmission and distribution | EME 801: Energy Markets, Policy, and Regulation", E-education.psu.edu, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/eme801/node/530. [Accessed: 22- Nov- 2020].

[4] “Green battery plant in Greater Manchester awarded £10m grant", BBC News, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-53097208. [Accessed: 22- Nov- 2020].














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