Logan Black talks about energy storage

Logan Black recently joined Locogen’s renewable energy consulting team. He will be working with clients across a range of technologies but here he looks at one emerging sector of the industry, which he sees as being a key component in the growing uptake of renewables – energy storage.

What made you decide on a career in renewables?

I hold a BEng in Mechanical Engineering and an MSc in Renewable Energy Engineering from Heriot Watt University. From a young age, sustainability and preserving the world for future generations has always been important to me and this drove me towards a career in low carbon technologies and renewable energy.

It is an exciting time to working in renewables as the costs of wind and solar generation are falling to the point that they are competing with traditional fossil fuelled power stations. Against this background, the development of energy storage has the potential to further disrupt the conventional energy market and enable the uptake of renewables by reducing the impact of intermittency or “wrong-time” energy generation.

Tell us a little more about energy storage

Energy storage is not a new concept - it has been around for centuries. Historically, this has been achieved through Pumped Storage Hydro (PSH) plants. PSH plants consist of large bodies of water, often impounded by dams, connected by an underground tunnel. PSH plants are usually restricted to areas where there is significant difference in height between these two water bodies. As you might imagine, construction costs for these projects are high, so PSH plants are typically very large to achieve the economies of scale necessary to make these projects financially feasible.

Due to recent technological developments and cost reductions, smaller scale energy storage has become more viable and it is now possible to have an affordable battery for your home or a commercial site. Aside from cost reductions and accessibility to emerging energy storage technologies, there are other key drivers to the recent uptake. These include an increase in the cost of electricity, the falling cost of renewables and a desire to be less dependent on the national grid. The combination of these drivers has seen many people look to develop their own power supply based around renewable generation and an energy storage system.

What are the benefits of energy storage?

There are a number of potential benefits in deploying storage systems. Behind the meter (BTM), for example, there are direct financial benefits. Energy storage makes it possible to store and then consume more onsite renewable energy generation, rather than exporting it to the grid. It also helps you to avoid expensive grid charges by reducing the amount of electricity imported during peak demand periods, while minimising the export of power at low tariff rates. On a commercial and industrial scale, energy storage projects can also access revenue streams related to keeping the National Grid balanced.

Additionally, the indirect benefits of energy storage include an increase in power quality, and the provision of a backup electricity supply to reduce disruption in the event of a power outage. Energy storage can also potentially lower the carbon footprint of the organisation.

What are the barriers to the deployment of these technologies?

Barriers to the development of energy storage projects are largely based around the high initial capital cost. However, by sizing the project appropriately and carrying out a detailed feasibility study, financial returns can be maximised, thus increasing project returns and decreasing risk to the investor.

Some key energy storage technologies

Commercial and industrial scale renewables such as rooftop solar and small-scale wind are key enablers to the development of energy storage market, as are existing onsite assets such as backup diesel generators. In terms of the energy storage technologies themselves, exciting developments in both lithium-ion and flow batteries are seeing costs reduce as manufacturers scale up operations and contractors become more experienced in working with the technologies. These different technologies have different characteristics in terms of the amount of energy stored, the efficiencies of each and the time taken to fully discharge, thus making them suitable for deployment in different situations. These characteristics can be seen in the diagram below. 

Characteristics of different energy storage technologies

How do you see the future of renewables and storage systems?

As a result of the falling cost of onsite renewable energy generation, I think we will see a move away from the traditional centralised generation means of producing electricity towards a distributed system, where generation is produced closer to the demand. In the short-term many commercial and industrial sites will install BTM generation and storage systems to realise cost savings and reduce their exposure to the electricity market and rising prices.

How can you help organisations realise these benefits?

I help organisations realise the benefits of renewables and energy storage by looking at the wider picture of their current and future energy use. I identify if a project is viable at an early stage, and if so I then study potential solutions. I provide insight into how our clients could reduce their energy bills through the installation of renewable energy generation and energy storage systems. By reviewing how organisations use energy, I can maximise potential project revenue without impacting the day-to-day business. It all comes back to lowering emissions and creating a more sustainable world, which is great because it’s exactly why I started out in this career.

Please contact us to discuss your own energy storage requirements.