Is the way we store energy the answer?

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windmillEnergy demands across the world are soaring and the price is still climbing for the end users. As the population grows and more technology (electric cars, more appliances for the kitchen, etc.) is added this strain is only going to increase. To meet the rising demand for energy more pylons, cabling, resources, and man-hours will be required, which could add up to £1,000 per year by 2050 to the end users bill. (Quotation from S&C Electric the power services company.)

 

At the moment, in the UK, renewable energy sources are growing at a steady rate but even they cannot match the growing demand required. Renewable sources are also not constant: the days where there is no wind for the windmills and no sun for the solar panels means less energy is created.

 

Which leads to the question: how can this issue be solved? Are we facing an energy crisis?

battery

A suggestion from Anthony Price from the UK’s Electricity Storage Network is that we look at how the UK stores it’s energy. If energy was stored and saved during the lulls between high demand then it could be used as a back-up for when it soars again. This would cover the gaps in the renewable energy sources as the surplus energy created on great days could be saved for the rainy days. This ruling would also mean that the windmills are not turned off once their quota has been reached and instead could be saved for the future.

 

How to Store Energy: Pumped Hydro and Efficient Batteries?

Hydro

There are a few ways to store energy from pumped hydro to powerful and efficient batteries (currently being implemented around the world). The Imperial College London’s Energy Futures Lab estimates that if we were to invest in better energy storage that it could save the UK £10bn per year by 2050. The estimates from Lux Research suggest the global industry for energy storage could be worth $100bn in the next few years.

 

Andrew Jones at S&C Electric believes the real difference will happen when smart meters installed in homes will know when to turn appliances off. This could lead to a give and taken relationship when the power is needed elsewhere. For example, turning the television off from standby so the power could be used to balance the rest of the grid. Germany is already starting to implement these types of smart appliances.

 

BillThe bigger picture and Your Bill

 

This could then lead to a larger scale operation where small-scale power generation is feasible. Households and businesses already sell energy back into the grid but soon any device able to store energy could also feed it back. The electric car not being used could turn into the battery required to power something else as connectivity grows. The technology isn’t there yet but it’s headed in that exciting direction and could save the UK a fortune. According to S&C Electric the original £1,000 predicted for end users bills by 2050 it could be as little as £100 if smart grids and energy storage were implemented.

 

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London’s New Solar-powered Blackfriars Rail Station

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The new Blackfriars rail station in London has opened this week. Taking only five years to build, the bridge crosses the River Thames, hosts Blackfriars rail station, and, surprisingly, boasts a total of 4,400 roof-mounted solar panels making it the world’s largest solar-powered bridge!

 London's Blackfriars Solar-powered Rail Station

Solar-powered Bridge Will Cut Carbon Emissions

The panels are expected to cut the stations’ carbon emissions by an estimated 511 tonnes per year. (That’s roughly the average weight of 73 African elephants for some fun perspective!) The photovoltaic panels will provide up to half of the energy for London Blackfriars station. This will reduce the carbon footprint of its train routes to the south east of England.

 

What First Capital Connect Said:

“Electric trains are already the greenest form of public transport!” David Statham, Managing Director of First Capital Connect stated, “This roof gives our passengers an even more sustainable journey. The distinctive roof has also turned the station into an iconic landmark visible for miles along the River Thames.”

 Worlds Largest Solar-powered Bridge

The Company Behind the Solar-powered Bridge:

Solarcentury installed the panels in a series of phases over the past two years – only stopping to reduce inconvenience during the 2012 Olympic Games. It was one of the company’s most complex tasks to date as a giant jigsaw over a large river which was a lot more complicated than a warehouse rooftop where they would normally install them. “We had different sections of roof available at different times to fit in with this complicated jigsaw of getting everything up and going,” explained Gavin Roberts, Solarcentury’s senior project manager.

 Iconic image of Blackfriars Solar-powered Bridge

London’s Efforts and The Future!

It is expected that the new solar-powered bridge will give a major boost to London’s efforts to become a sustainable city. Solarcentury’s  Suzanna Lashford, head of commercial sales, hopes the project will inspire more developers to turn towards other sources of renewable energy. She said, “Network Rail has invested funds into the project is a great sign for the solar industry. They’re an old English institution and they’re looking to the future to make investments into non-core technologies for the business, and that’s a great statement that other large corporations in the country can start realising.”

 

Sources: The Guardian: Worlds Largest Solar Powered Bridge Opens in London

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Solar Power In The UK Passes The 1GW Milestone

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Solar Trophy

 

 

The UK has reached the grand milestone of 1 gigawatt (1GW) in demand for solar PV panels. Using year-to-date data, and despite the 46% decline in the second quarter, the solar power in the UK is currently on trend to smash the current record.

 

 

Solar PV Demand Per Quarter 2013 in MW
Chart showing solar PV demand per quarter in 2013 in megawatts

Why The Sudden Drop?

Why the 46% decline? There’s a bunch of reasons but lets briefly touch on a couple:

  • The cut in the Renewable Obligation Certificate incentives on 1st April 2013. This is less impacting for the end users and more about the companies who provide power. It led to less ground-mounted solar PV panels.
  • The European Commission increased the import tariff on China made solar PV panels. This meant it was more expensive to import solar PV panels.

On the whole, we’re not helping ourselves! But what’s more interesting is that it’s the little people who count more.

In The UK Currently:

Cumulative solar PV panels installed in the UK (at the end of June 2013) currently stands at 2.71 gigawatts. The largest percentage being residential installed panels! It’s the Joe Blogg’s of the UK with solar PV panels on the roof, shed, in the garden, anywhere possible.

Installed Location of Cumulative Solar PV Panels in the UK
Installed Location of Cumulative Solar PV Panels in the UK

In the first half of 2013 alone the UK has installed a whooping 106 solar PV panel farms. More than half of the new solar farms have an installed capacity of over 5 megawatts with 8% boasting over 10 megawatts.

 

Sources:
Annual Demand for Solar Power in UK Passes 1GW Milestone
UK Solar Power PV Demand in Quarter 2 Declines

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How Is The UK Re-Charging?

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DECC LogoThe DUKES 2013 Report

Last month the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) released their Statistical Press Release: The Digest of UK Energy Statistics (aka DUKES) taken from 2012. It has a lot of graphs and numbers but what exactly does it mean?

I’m here to provide a closer look and point out some of the interesting trends.

Offshore RenewablesRenewable Energy on The Up!

This graph shows the gradual increase of renewable energy produced by the UK from 2004 to 2012. The UK only became interested in renewable energy in the mid-1990’s. The news is good! Each year has shown an increase and each year it has been above the target set by the government.

UK Energy Produced by Renewables
The percentage of UK Energy Produced by Renewables

But It’s Not All Good News …

However, the target set for the government is low compared to other countries. Each time we’ve surpassed that target it has only been by 0.1%, which is hardly breaking any records. Germany, for instance, has just broken its monthly solar power generation record (again). In July 2013 they logged 5.1 terawatt’s hours of electricity. (To put that in to perspective we only got 1114.2 gigawatts from renewable sources!)

Installed Capacity of PV Per Country
The total capacity of Photovoltaic panels per country.

Quote From Clean Technica:

“In terms of total solar power capacity per capita, Germany crushes every other country. At the end of 2012, it had approximately 400 MW of solar power capacity per million people, considerably more than #2 Italy at 267 MW per million people, #3 Belgium at 254 MW per million people, and #4 Czech Republic at 204 MW per million, and #5 Greece at 143 MW per million people. The US came it at #20 with about 25 MW per million people.”

Notice how we don’t even feature on that list? I know we’re a small country but we could be doing more. It’s certainly spiked upwards but it’s hardly the runner-up to winning the medal, let alone the gold seeker!

The Good News

There is good news in this muddle of information. Offshore wind generation (which is the UK’s second largest renewable source currently after biomass) has increased by 46% in 2012 and had a greater load factor than gas. (33.7% from wind compared to 30.4% from gas.)

UK Electricity Generation by Fuel
UK Electricity Generation by Fuel

The Final Word And Going Forwards

Slowly things are changing. It’s not just about turning off the television or light bulb any more. It’s about moving forwards and growing with the changes happening around us. Perhaps the UK government should review their plan and set more aggressive targets for renewable energy so we can try to catch up on the swift progress being made elsewhere in Europe.

Sources:

Germany Breaks Monthly Solar Generation Record, 6.5 Times More than US best, from Clean Technica

The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) Digest of UK Energy Statistics (DUKES) 2013 – Press Release

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