Domestic energy storage won’t replace behaviour change

Written by Matthew Clayton on 22nd Feb 2018

The announcement in July last year from BEIS secretary Greg Clark on funding and R&D should spell progress for the energy storage industry, and in particular, domestic energy storage, from which we could all stand to benefit. Matthew Clayton, MD of renewables company Thrive Renewables, a Good Egg company, explains why domestic renewable energy storage is a turning point – but it won’t replace the need for us all to get smarter about how we use energy.

Domestic energy storage has big potential for decarbonising our energy system. But it’s only one part of the story of transforming how we power our homes… some of the other parts include:


Car batteries… in the home?

One lesser-known benefit is that it offers a way to recycle old car batteries that have degraded below the performance required for their primary use, but still have more than 10 years of life left in them.

Car batteries that no longer provide the range and power required for automotive use, can still perform well in the home (in fact, one car battery can serve several homes) or small business.

Until we have adequate battery component, precious metal and chemical recycling, we need to squeeze every bit of potential out over every cell before it heads off to landfill.

When integrated with domestic renewables such as solar, domestic storage facilities can allow homeowners to increase use of their own power and minimise the consumption of expensive and greenhouse gas emission intensive power from the grid.

As electric cars become more common, they can be plugged in at home and work, so their batteries can be used to help balance the grid, during the day and overnight. As with fossil-fuelled cars today, they use only a tiny amount of their potential, so all the time they are not being driven, they can support the grid. This means that if you have an electric car, you might not need a battery in your home as well.


Smart appliances

Smart appliances also have a big role to play. Energy intensive freezers, washing machines, tumble dryers and hot water tanks can be sensitive to the frequency of the grid (and the prevailing weather conditions) and can then adjust their demand (depending on when and how intensively they operate) in line with the availability of renewable power.

So when it’s windy and/or sunny the systems run and consume the abundant power, and when it is still and dark, or other consumption is high, then they draw minimal power from the grid. This is all possible now, if only appliances manufacturers thought consumers were conscious enough to want them.


Careful timing

Heating and hot water makes up over 65 per cent of domestic energy demand. It’s not just diesel cars which are pumping NOx into our cities, equally culpable is the gas we are burning to heat water, homes and offices. A hot water tank powered by renewable energy (either at the property or via a cleaner grid), which heats when renewable power is abundant, or overnight when there is lower demand for power, could make a huge impact on removing peak demand and also urban natural gas consumption. It’s a bit like ‘Economy 7’, but rather than just working on the time of day, demand can also adjust according to the availability of renewably generated energy.

Nothing will be more effective at reducing CO2 from homes than energy consumers getting smarter. If we all thought more about when we use energy and where it was coming from, we could reduce the peak demand on the grid and increase the use of renewable power. For renewably-powered homes, this could mean only using power-thirsty appliances when it’s sunny and windy.

Avoiding using power heavy appliances between 7am and 10am and 4pm and 7pm, when national demand is at its peak, is also effective. The UK’s most carbon intensive generation is fired up to meet the peaks, so by flattening demand, we’ll generate greenhouse gas reductions. Heat your water, run your tumble dryer (or better still use a washing line!) when demand for power is low and renewable energy is abundant.

By flattening the nation’s demand profile we can reduce the overall volume of generation infrastructure we need – if we could save nine per cent of our demand, we could stop building Hinkley Point C now! And lower the cost and environmental impact for everyone. We don’t need to wait for smart meters, smart apps and more devices to be smarter consumers!


Behaviour change

I’m 100 per cent supportive of appliances, technologies and infrastructure as a means of addressing the energy issues of cost and environmental impact, but we should not for one moment assume we need to wait: we can achieve much of the benefits from behaviour change. As consumers we just need to be informed, conscious and committed.  Giving a little thought before we flick the various switches in our homes. Perhaps if David Attenborough suggested it, we could flatten our energy needs overnight!

Domestic energy storage is an important part of the solution, but the goal has to be to reduce the amount of energy we use, remove the peaks in demand which are both environmentally and financially burdensome, and to consume what we need in line with natural resource availability. As a nation if we flattened our diurnal energy demand our electricity bills would fall, our air quality would improve and we’d reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as well.

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