The Electric Powered Future
The demand and pace at which the electricity system in the United Kingdom is changing have dramatically altered significantly in light of the ongoing Covid situation. The UK now is a world leader in how much energy is generated by wind power from turbines, formerly on land but now increasing at sea. Using fossil fuels to make energy is dramatically less than in previous years.
The reliance on these new, highly ecologically sound, efficient means of creating energy has led to some challenges.
Currently, fossil fuels take up the slack when demand outstrips the renewable supply. Even in sunny California, there is a shortfall that must be met by, often, less than green fossil fuels. Capturing the green and renewable energy is no longer the main problem; being able to store it for when it is needed is the significant challenge for energy companies trying to deliver a consistent supply of energy.
In light of this, the British government has decided to relax planning consent for large scale battery storage facilities both in Wales and in England; this will massively increase the scale of these sites. The UK government believes that this will dramatically enhance the ability to store these new forms of energy. As it stands the proposed increase in cell storage will increase almost fifteenfold once these new projects are built.
The driving imperative behind this massive increase in battery storage capacity is that the government has committed itself to reach a position of being carbon neutral by the year 2050 and recently ending the sale of petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2030. To achieve these highly ambitious targets, there are two possible solutions. One is to have a highly enhanced, 24/7, system of generating these renewables and thus the need for massive battery storage facilities. The other option being the creation of local-based solutions with communities themselves, owning and controlling localised wind and solar energy-producing facilities. A massive increase in storage cells will be needed to cope with the expected increase in power that will be generated by increasing the number of offshore turbines and the necessary storage of said energy.
Is mass storage the answer?
The question is: is building massive battery storage facilities the answer to meeting the electricity demands of the United Kingdom in the future? Could the answer be provided by using the enormous network of high street car parks and garages and utilising the combined power of the vehicles that use them? Experts in the field of electric cars think the answer to that question is yes.
Over the last twenty-five years, carbon dioxide emissions from the generation of power for the electric grid has fallen by a massive fifteen per cent, meaning car emissions are now the most significant contributor to United Kingdom-wide emissions at over thirty per cent.
Electric vehicles are growing in popularity in all their forms. However, they are still only at ten per cent of total car sales, and it will take a real shift in attitude to electric cars before they significantly help to reduce the car industries reliance of fossil fuel. To achieve this reduction, there must be the necessary charging points before people accept the need for change. Obviously as well, the uptake in electric vehicles will increase demands on the electricity supply which comes in part from natural gas (over thirty per cent), partly from nuclear and increasingly from renewables.
How green cars could be used for storing excess electricity.
Another plus point of electric cars is the fact that when they are engaged in the act of charging, the national grid could have, in effect, free access to any unused energy in that vehicle’s energy cell at times of peak demand. Just the act of charging an electric vehicle makes the overall electricity supply more cost-effective and therefore, greener. If you multiply all the cars charging in one location, this is in effect, creating a localised cell facility. This type of storage, known as V2G (vehicle to grid) if harnessed properly may be much more efficient and have much lower costs than large out of town storage cell facilities.
The numbers are mind-boggling. If the UK harnessed the possible energy transfers of the nearly forty million vehicles that use Britain’s roads, then the collective storage capacity of this super ‘battery’ would be a staggering two hundred and twenty thousand gigawatts. That would massively surpass the storage capacity that is being planned with the upgrade of storage cell facilities. This V2G technology could be one of the innovations that help deliver on the projected total switch to electric vehicles.
Storing electricity in individual cars, rather than costly battery storage facilities, could be a driver in the growth of electric vehicle use. The potential storage capacity of Britain’s road users immense and might help avoid the need for colossal power storage units. These power storage units could cost hundreds of millions of pounds. It should not be forgotten that the tab will, of course, be passed on to the purchasers and users of the electric vehicles.
The costs of producing energy at a cell storage facility also come with all the inherent cost associated with setting up any large-scale facility. Specialised cooling systems and a, without doubt strict, regulatory framework governing the running of such a site will necessarily add to running costs, quite apart from the spend on building and infrastructure costs.
The only potential drawback to the mass use of V2G cell storage is that the idea is in its very early stages. There are a few technical and logistical hurdles that would need to be facilitated to connect all these vehicles to the national grid. However, the good news is all the necessary technologies all exist in one form or another; these various strands need to be pulled together for this technology to be in widespread usage.
There are already a few examples of V2G being trialled in the United Kingdom. One such small-scale example is a project being trialled by Nissan whereby any captured energy in a household’s solar panels are transferred to the cell in that home’s electric vehicle and stored there until the energy demand of the house requires it. This trial looks to be both practical and promises the hope of broader use.
In conclusion whilst agreeing that there is a need to dramatically increase the energy storage capacity in the electricity system in the United Kingdom, we feel that perhaps instead of concentrating on extensive storage cell facilities, the spotlight should be cast elsewhere. By encouraging a shift to electric vehicles and then harnessing the combined storage power of each vehicle a much more energy-efficient and greener outcome for Britain’s transportation needs could be achieved.