Last reviewed 4 October 2016

Energy security and protecting the environment are increasingly moving to the top of the environment manager’s agenda. With new battery technology coming on stream, is a new age of self-store power about to transform how businesses and organisations approach their energy needs? Dave Howell reports.

Environment and facilities managers have long been tasked with managing the energy requirements of their organisations or businesses within a landscape of corporate social responsibility (CSR) that continues to massively influence policy.

In an ideal world, energy needs would be met by self-generation, but until that becomes a reality, organisations have to manage their power needs with its availability and costs from established suppliers. However, new battery technologies look set to turn how power needs are approached on its head.

What if it were possible to store significant quantities of energy until it was needed? Environment managers have experience of setting up and maintaining uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) to protect its critical systems, but what if more advanced storage technologies could be used to offer an on-demand energy source?

This is the promise of energy storage — a technology that is rapidly expanding. In its briefing paper, Realising Energy Storage Technologies in Low-carbon Energy Systems (RESTLESS) states: “Energy storage could make an important contribution to balancing a low-carbon energy system in the future for the UK, and the technologies have high export potential. A rapidly-growing family of technologies that can meet multiple system needs are in development. Innovation is required to reduce the costs of storage technologies, but their widespread deployment into electricity markets that is required to underpin this innovation is not occurring.”

With Eunomia also commenting in its overview of electricity storage in the UK: “Electricity storage can provide greater flexibility to the grid network, absorbing or releasing energy to smooth intermittent generation patterns and demand variability. It can also help to manage the implications of potentially more variable patterns of consumption, such as frequency imbalance, and offer an alternative to conventional network reinforcement to the grid.”

It is perhaps a more high-profile development that could move businesses to look more closely at energy storage. The announcement of Tesla’s Powerwall battery storage for the domestic market shows a path that could lead to this kind of technology for commercial users.

SolarCity is showing how on-site energy storage could work for business with its Tesla battery pack-based system and the Electricity Storage Network is showing how large-scale battery storage could help reduce the energy crisis many believe the UK is heading towards.

The development and rollout of distributed storage are gaining pace. Already big players in the energy technology sector, including GE and Sonnen that has seen significant increases in sales of its SonnenBatterie. GE’s new business, dubbed “Current”, is designed to move the company to become a full-service company for the burgeoning energy storage market.

Power vaults

Frank Gordon, Senior Policy Analyst at the Renewable Energy Association was asked if battery technology is now advanced to the point where environment managers can use them as a component of their energy needs, and he replied:

Battery storage is an exciting and fast moving technology, the costs in particular have come down considerably (c65% in the past five years) meaning that it is now much more economical to use batteries to provide vital services. The low-carbon aspect should be an advantage to any environmental manager. For example, diesel generators could increasingly be seen as a target for replacement by energy storage devices as they are cleaner and easier to run.

Environment managers have experience of UPS. Is grid-connected energy storage technology a way for environment managers to gain more energy security?

Potentially yes, as energy can be stored when it is being generated on-site, for use when it is not, or when grid supplies are interrupted, or the unit can be charged from the grid and discharged in the event of a power supply failure. There is a need to ensure the relevant unit can provide this capability however, as every device is not enabled to provide off-grid supplies. Commissioning companies are advised to check the product specifications and consult the installer/manufacturer. The REA’s sister organisation RECC has produced guidance on the questions anyone purchasing a storage device needs to ask (www.recc.org.uk).

What are the pitfalls environment managers need to pay attention to when using battery-based energy supplies?

It is crucial to be aware of the technical details of the unit being installed as these vary significantly. For example, certain storage systems can provide power in the event of a blackout, but others cannot. It is also important to be aware of the unit’s C-rate and depth of discharge, and for how long power can be supplied back to the user when required (ie exactly how long it takes to charge the unit, length of discharge capability and how much power can be supplied).

Units should be installed by a capable person and although MCS does not yet extend to storage device installations, there is now some technical guidance published for good practice installations and any installer should comply with industry best practice such as outlined in the RECC Code.

Does the future mean environment managers will have their own on-site battery storage facilities?

This will increasingly be the case. As outlined above, the numerous benefits of storage mean that conventional options such as diesel generators can start to be replaced with batteries, which are lower carbon and more sustainable in the round, especially when combined with solar PV and other on-site renewables.

Does the Tesla Powerwall battery for domestic use show a future how business could secure their energy needs?

Yes, this is already becoming a reality for companies, for example the move to “zero impact” buildings combining on-site solar PV, heat pumps and energy storage together with high levels of insulation. In the future this will also be combined with electric vehicle charging points to provide employee benefits and green an organisation’s transport footprint.

There are actually a range of battery companies and options available now for domestic and commercial use, not just Tesla’s, including Powervault, Moixa, REDT and Sunamp’s innovative heat battery, and many of these have the added benefit of being made in the UK.

Does more on-site power generation and battery storage converge for environment managers in the near future?

We believe so, even with the reduction in Feed-in Tariff rates recently, there is an attractive business case for onsite renewables generation, and energy storage can enhance the economic case further as self-consumption can be maximised and therefore the least possible electricity purchased from the grid. Several innovative companies are already investigating the possibilities at their sites.

As battery storage technologies continue to develop, environment managers will have a new weapon in their armoury to deliver more efficient, sustainable but above all reliable power to their businesses or organisations. It is early in these technologies’ evolution, but what is certain is that power storage looks set to become an environment manager’s potential response to a growing energy question.