Beyond Lithium - Powering Up the UK’s Energy Storage Industry

The UK’s energy sector is undergoing rapid transformation across all phases of its closely integrated network, from generation to transmission/distribution, and consumption/infrastructure. 

These changes include the decarbonisation of energy generation, an increasingly decentralised/non-synchronous supply (thanks to localised renewable sources), rising consumer demand, and the integration of new technologies.

The National Grid is developing a new, flexible service model to support this transformation - and one of the technologies that it’s relying on to help with this is greater energy storage capacity. 

Energy storage enables the grid to ease transmission flow, smooth the demand curve, lower customer costs, overcome capacity constraints, and absorb the output from localised renewable energy sources.

It’s typically deployed either ‘in front of the meter’ or ‘behind the meter.’ Systems deployed in front of the meter help deliver the electricity, while technology deployed behind the meter is typically used to support/store energy generated on-site by consumers for use in a specific building.


Next Generation Storage Technologies

Lithium-ion batteries, although widely deployed to store energy have significant limitations – not least the fact that even large-scale batteries cannot provide power for more than 30-90 minutes.  So, next generation technologies are now being developed to offer higher energy density storage, greater affordability, and less or no degradation. 

Among these is so-called long duration energy storage (LDES); an umbrella term for various solutions, including thermal energy storage, electrochemical storage, mechanical storage, and hydrogen. 

Hydrogen stores energy in the form of chemical energy, which can then be used within fuel cells, or stored as a gas, or in a liquid state.  It produces close to zero greenhouse gas emissions when burnt and can be distributed relatively easily using existing infrastructure.

The rise of battery-powered vehicles (EVs) is also opening up new storage options, including:

  • Vehicle-to-grid storage (V2G) where smart technology controls when electricity is flowing into the vehicle, or reverses the flow to relay energy from the car’s battery either back to the property or into the grid.
  • Second life energy storage where batteries that are no longer suited to be power sources for EVs are repurposed for other uses, including localised renewable energy storage. This not only reduces the need the manufacture new batteries, it also helps feed the circular economy and sidesteps any immediate need to dispose of old batteries.

As often is the case, the development of new energy storage technology brings with it a need to update existing regulations to protect the safety of end-users, as well as safeguard localised energy sources (e.g. wind turbines) and preserve the integrity of the grid.

Battery systems can, and do, fail - sometimes with devastating consequences, while second life batteries are not covered by any UK or European standards (although IEC 63330 and IEC 63338 are under development to address this). 

Insurers are, not surprisingly, looking hard at the risks associated with energy storage, particularly when it comes to large-scale battery farms.


Rittal’s Energy Storage Ebook

In Rittal’s Storage Energy ebook, we consider all these issues in more detail. 

Plus we look at how mineral shortages and the UK’s lack of battery production facilities, could slow the country’s need to advance its renewable energy capabilities.