Small-scale energy storage will be big business

Shane Crump, E&I engineering manager, and Peter Benyon, market leader, at GHD – one of the world’s leading professional services firms, explore how small-scale energy storage will be big business in making the next decade count on our path to net zero.

A super-charged transition

With the advent of new technology bringing energy storage to households, we foresee a future where energy availability, consumption and pricing are firmly in the hands of the consumer. 

Consumers are taking a more active role in new energy systems. A shift made possible, in part, by the rise of the ‘prosumer’ – the individual energy producer-consumer who can self-generate and manage personal electricity consumption to help fight climate change. But renewables like solar can only produce energy at certain times of the day, so reliable storage will become a critical enabler, providing consumers and whole communities with increased choice and a greater sense of independence in the energy transition. 

Future innovation and investment to ensure batteries work within acceptable risk, price point, charge time and duration will support continued growth. The rethinking of demand tariff structures and smart metering to better incentivise energy use outside of peak periods will continue. Lithium-ion batteries and technology controls are a well-proven technology today, but it’s only a matter of time before new solutions will enter the market offering added safety, reduced cost and longer duration benefits. 

Reliable storage and new solutions 

This is where hydrogen energy storage becomes very interesting. Unlike batteries that are not a cost-effective solution for storing large quantities of electricity for an extended period, hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored at volume for a long time. In this way, hydrogen will emerge as a key opportunity in both household (small scale) and community (medium scale) applications. Systems such as LAVO for example – the world’s first household hydrogen energy storage system – use innovative patented metal hydride technology to store the equivalent of up to 40 kWh of electricity. 

Storage must provide stability (whether independent from, or integrated with, the grid) to be effective and add to the resiliency of households, neighbourhoods and whole communities. What’s exciting about the evolution of energy storage is the abundance of new ideas emerging in this space. From compressed air storage to mini pumped-hydro plants, engineers and technologists are exploring a range of energy storage options that will complement lithium-ion and hydrogen solutions in the next five to 10 years. We might even see widespread use of our own electric vehicles as an extension of household energy storage in the future – batteries on wheels! 

Community-based energy will come to the fore 

Many prosumers are already investing in storage to store otherwise curtailed self-generated electricity or low-priced electricity from the grid during periods of high renewable electricity supply and low demand. This stored electricity can then be sold back into the grid during higher demand and higher price periods, or used on-site, improving self-sufficiency. The virtual power plant – a community network of generation and storage systems – is enabling prosumers to participate in the electricity market and obtain additional value from their storage assets. 

Power engineers are also fast-tracking the next generation of grid-forming inverter technology which, when paired with software, will help manage grid disturbances and provide a source of frequency and voltage to keep the grid energized during outages. 

A further solution to truly community-wide clean energy distribution will be providing convenient, on-demand access that fits in with our changing lifestyles. For example, could our shopping centres and other public places offer EV charging stations, backed by onsite energy storage, to enable highly distributed, fast charging services in the future? This is the sort of ‘intermediate-scale storage we need and expect to see this coming decade. 

The recipe for success in the short term will be offering a mix of new and diverse small-scale energy storage options and community micro-grids, complemented by a modernised, smarter grid to ensure reliability and round-the-clock power – the big and the small working together to ultimately, drive a more distributed approach to decarbonise our electricity systems