Sustainability: energy storage

shutterstock_65529781 credit Robert Biedermann 2

Efficient energy storage to meet varying demand could be the key to delivering sustainable energy to buildings as the UK works to reduce its carbon emissions

01 / Introduction

Achieving the UK’s Climate Change Act  2008 goal of an 80% reduction against 1990 levels in carbon emissions by 2050 will require radical decarbonisation of the energy used to power and heat our buildings. Although there is the potential for greater use of low-carbon fuels such as biomethane or hydrogen, it is highly likely that electricity will become the main source of energy used to provide both heating and transportation in addition to power. While nuclear will form a component of the energy supply mix, it is expected that the contribution from renewable energy will continue to increase to meet a large portion of demand. 

There are two acknowledged strategic issues associated with increasing the proportion of renewable energy supplied to the built environment:

Because of the intermittent nature of renewables, they cannot be relied upon alone to meet an electricity demand that also varies.

The impact of moving the heating of our built environment to electricity would need to be able to respond to the large peaks in demand for heating energy during winter months that are much higher than current electricity demand peaks (see figure 1). 

It is true that the improved efficiency of electric heating systems, for instance via the use of heat pumps, would reduce the peaks in demand, while smart systems and time-of-use pricing can also help smooth consumption patterns. Without intervention, however, peaks in winter demand will inevitably increase as more heating is supplied by electricity: this will be a particular issue for existing homes with higher heating demand. Add vehicles and other demand sources, and both the energy generation infrastructure and the provision for the transmission and distribution of the energy generated will need to be significantly upgraded if the necessary supply is to be delivered. 

Ensuring energy availability and minimising demand peaks are critical challenges that must be addressed if the levels of renewable low-carbon energy in the electricity generation  mix are to be increased. These challenges are prompting detailed investigation of the role energy storage systems can play in helping reduce costs and minimise disruption caused by decarbonisation of the energy system.

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