28 August, 2020
California was hit by a whopping 54.4°C last week, one of the hottest temperatures ever recorded. As its residents cranked the air conditioning up, the electricity grid operator ordered rolling blackouts for the first time in 19 years, fearing that demand would outstrip supply.
Although it was quite literally a perfect storm of factors, some were quick to point the finger at California’s relatively high proportion of energy generation from renewables, given their intermittent nature in comparison with fossil fuel generators, which can be fired up as and when needed.
As solar panels become more widespread, the electricity demand curve increasingly resembles a duck (honestly!), and the challenge becomes to smooth this curve by evening out demand, or ‘squashing the duck’. This is largely a behavioural challenge – getting people to shift energy consumption to times when renewables are dominating. However, energy storage also has a huge role to play in balancing supply and demand – straightforward batteries, vehicle-to-grid technology, and pumped storage, for example.
Yet in the UK, energy storage is a massively undervalued resource, having been hit with a VAT hike last year, along with various other clean energy technologies. And this is despite the fact that measures such as these stand at stark odds with the UK’s net zero ambition. A wealth of clever innovations can fill the gap – Octopus Energy’s partnership with Powervault, the electricityMAP on IFTTT and Gravitricity’s energy storage system in mines are some of our favourites. But the conditions need to be right to unleash their full potential towards a cleaner, more stable and less duck-oriented electricity grid in the future.
By Patrick Bapty