It’s been a busy week for the British clean energy industry.
On Monday, the business secretary, Greg Clark, announced the launch of phase one of a £246 million four-year Government investment in revolutionising the UK energy grid through the development and improvement of battery technology and storage. Phase one includes the creation of a £45 million “Battery Institute” competition to establish a centre for research into making battery technology more affordable and accessible. One of the longterm goals is the creation of giant battery facilities around the National Grid which would store excess wind and solar energy to be deployed at times of peak energy demand.
The investment, known as the “Faraday Challenge”, is part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy. It is split into three streams of research, innovation and scale-up and is being seen as a “game-changer” for the UK, enabling the UK to be a world leader in clean energy and transportation.
Responding to the announcement, Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), said: “Batteries will form a cornerstone of a low carbon economy, whether in cars, aircraft, consumer electronics, district or grid storage. To deliver the UK’s low carbon economy we must consolidate and grow our capabilities in novel battery technology.”
Another aspect of the announcement is the introduction of new rules over the next year to enable households with solar panels to generate and store their own electricity with the help of new battery technology and to sell this electricity back to the National Grid. The rules would move away from the traditional tariff model which solar panel owners currently have to pay to import electricity from or export electricity to the National Grid. The new rules would also reduce energy costs for people and businesses that agree to use less electricity during peak times. Overall, the intention is to provide for greater flexibility in the electricity system. The Government and Energy regulator Ofgem estimate that consumers could save between £17 billion and £40 billion by 2050.
These developments will be facilitated by the roll-out of smart meters and the development and installation of smart gadgets and appliances, enabling a washing machine to be turned on by the internet during a period of high energy supply or a freezer being turned off for a few minutes to regulate demand. Tech companies, such as Google and Amazon, are already eyeing up opportunities in this new market to act as energy suppliers on the back of Ofgem agreeing to relax licencing and data sharing rules. This would give such companies direct control over appliances in a customer’s home, which has raised some serious concerns over privacy and security.
In other developments, earlier this week, the world’s first floating wind farm began trials off the coast of Scotland. Using revolutionary technology, this trial if successful, would enable wind energy to be generated in waters that are too deep for bottom-standing turbines, opening a new frontier for wind energy. Although currently much more expensive that traditional wind turbines, producers are hopeful that the cost of floating turbines will fall, just as it has for traditional turbines.
Finally, the UK has made a bold announcement to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, following on from a similar announcement made by France earlier this month. Perhaps somewhat fortuitously, this announcement was followed by BMW announcing that it would start developing a fully electric Mini car at its plant in Oxford, UK.
After years of ignoring clean energy and environmental issues, it looks like the UK Government is finally starting to sit up and take notice. This week’s developments are an excellent step forward. However, much more investment and innovation is still needed for the UK to meet its 2030 Agenda commitments.