Storage of UK renewable energy and the future of the solar PV panel industry


The need for large-scale energy storage

The UK are increasingly interested in developing more effective ways to store energy at a large scale. This is because there are concerns by UK corporate energy firms over future energy supplies, meaning an increase in renewable energy is likely. These predicted changes in the energy market are likely to lead to an increase in the adoption of storage technologies for renewable energy, as companies aim to safeguard their future. Natural energy resources fluctuate in their ability to capture energy, due to changes in weather conditions, making storage important for round-the-clock power. 


Technologies for large-scale energy storage of renewable energy

Hydroelectric pumped-storage

A hydroelectric pumped-storage system has been in successfully storing energy for over 30 years near Gwynedd in North Wales.  Hydroelectric pumped-storage systems use peak power to pump water from a lower to an upper reservoir and then energy is recovered by allowing the water to flow back down through turbines, delivering energy back to the grid. There are restrictions on the placement of hydroelectric systems as they require a hilly area in which to pump water to higher ground.

Cryogenic energy storage

Since 2010 a cryogenic energy storage plant has been operating in Buckinghamshire. Cryogenic energy storage involves the compression of air into a cold liquid. Power can be generated by evaporating the liquid into a high pressure gas to turn a turbine.

The UK Department for Environment and Climate Change (DECC) has recently funded an £8m cryogenic energy storage plant in Pilsworth in the north west of England, which is due to start running in March and is hoped to power many thousands of homes expected to be more efficient.

Battery storage

As well energy storage plants funded by the government, companies are also interested in developing storage solutions in what is seen to be a growing market. One company, Renewable energy Systems will be building a 300kVA/640kWh battery energy storage system at a solar park in Somerset, following on from its successful energy storage projects in the US.


Battery storage of renewable energy is an attractive option for homeowners with solar panels

Since mid-January, the solar PV panel feed-in tariff has been reduced for homeowners installing solar panels. Liberal democrat peer Baroness Lynne Featherstone was unable to reverse this decision when she debated the issue in the House of Lords this month. While this is a disappointing outcome for the UK solar industry, a Solar Finance and Investment event took place in London on the same day, discussing how the solar PV industry can adopt new business models to survive in a market with less subsidy. One key conclusion was a solution of developing and expanding the use of solar energy storage.

And with storage options, the solar panel industry could enable its customers to benefit from a direct supply of energy. So a homeowner would have roof-top solar PV panels, and a battery in their home – maybe under the stairs – and they could control their energy spending as well as helping to manage the wider energy network by supplying energy to the grid.


Storing energy from rooftop solar PV panels with Lithium-ion batteries 

In 2015 Tesla Motors introduced a battery that can store energy from solar PV panels. The Powerwall battery which can store up to 10kWH, which is sufficient to power most homes, has been introduced into many homes in the US and Australia, and it is available to order in the UK. Since then, the Department for Environment and Climate Change (DECC) have backed a similar system from Moixa technology which is a UK energy R&D company. Moixa have created Maslow lithium-ion batteries which store energy from rooftop solar panels to provide around-the-clock power to UK homes. Maslow batteries also use excess energy to balance the grid - generating income for the homeowner - in partnership with the DECC. 

The cost of lithium-ion batteries continues to fall. As well as Tesla and Moixa, other large manufacturers such as Samsung, Panasonic and LG are developing similar devices to allow homeowners to store solar energy generated on their rooftops. An important factor going forward for customers in the UK looking to limit their spending on energy as well as helping our climate, will be the economic viability of this method of energy storage.


Storage in 2016 and beyond..

Balancing the UK’s national grid currently costs one billion pounds per year, so storing renewable energy could provide a more cost effective option allowing for infrequent spikes in energy use. But if energy storage was more widely used in homes it could even supersede the need for large scale energy storage sites, whilst providing a solution to those wishing to switch to solar PV panels in a time when the financial incentives are being cut.

People in the energy industry are confident that 2016 will be a breakthrough year for energy storage in the UK as these various storage solutions are being explored.