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Battery storage, is it an option for your plant?

In the global drive to replace fossil fuels, the ability to store excess energy is key to maximising renewable energy. Many forget fossil fuels provide both energy sources and storage systems. But renewable energy systems need these functions to be provided separately.

Solar, wind and hydro have helped source energy needed, but storing it hasn’t always been possible. It’s been the missing piece of the energy puzzle. But battery storage systems allow you to store excess generated energy such as heat or electricity, and save it until a time when it’s needed. This could be for usage at peak times, for sale back to the grid, or to be retained and sold later at an optimum price.

Wind, tidal and solar are naturally irregular and sporadic sources of energy, so storing excess energy could help see your plant through times of low production.[1] Battery storage systems can be run from small household units to grid-scale technologies.[2] With this in mind, how could your plant utilise battery storage?

Developments in battery technology

Applications for energy storage projects in the UK have grown from 2MW in 2012, to over 6.8GW in 2018.[3] And the average capacity for these projects has nearly tripled in the last three years from 10MW in 2016 to 27MW in 2018.[4] Enough energy to power approximately 4,428 homes.[5]

More than 300 UK-based businesses are operating in this sector.[6] 3.3GW of storage capacity (including hydro projects) are now operational in the UK and a further 5.4GW has planning consent. This includes 4.8GW of battery storage, which is enough capacity to fully charge 480,000 electric vehicles.[7]

It’s clear the sector is growing. Earlier this year the UK's largest grid battery storage facility was completed in Hertfordshire. Statera Energy's 50MW facility includes 150,000 lithium-ion battery cells. Housed in seven custom-built 'E-houses', it’s capable of delivering up to 60MVA of power.[8]

And of course there was installation of the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia. A deal which brought Tesla and Neoen together. The 100MW battery was switched on in November 2017 and is on track to make back a third of its construction costs in its first year of operation.[9]

Battery storage risks

Energy generation, whether renewable or fossil fuel, always has and always will carry an element of risk. While the use of batteries is nothing new, what’s new is the size, complexity, energy density of the systems and the Li-ion battery chemistry involved.

Battery storage systems pose many benefits but the technology has a range significant risks such as:

  • Fires – ‘thermal runaway’ (a cycle in which excessive heat keeps creating more heat) and sensitivity of the Li-ion batteries can lead to high temperatures, gas build-up and potential explosive rupture of the battery cell. This can cause a fire and/or explosion.

Battery fires are often very intense and difficult to control. They can take days or even weeks to extinguish properly, and may seem fully extinguished when they’re not.[10]

  • Breakdown of a mechanical part - failure of control systems for example can lead to overcharging and an inability to monitor the operating environment, such as temperature or cell voltage.

Excess energy generated or previously stored energy could be lost or become inaccessible until the fault is repaired. Costing you time and money.

  • Flooding of site – if your plant is in a flood risk area, flooding of your battery storage system can cause serious damage to the site.

Your storage facility could become inaccessible, and if the flooding is extreme, it could cause a mechanical breakdown. With the site flooded, it could be weeks until you can access it to rectify any problems and damage.

  • Marine / cargo – sourcing equipment for your storage facility might mean overseas suppliers. If so, you’re exposed to many factors outside of your control, such as items being held up in customs and adverse weather that can delay shipment.

Transportation issues of your system materials can delay start-up, leading to a delay in your facility running at its full potential.

Installing battery storage systems

When thinking about risk prevention, you need to look at all the traditional plant safety measures, such as separation and isolation, monitoring systems, and international compliance standards. Insurers will, in the main, be expecting sites to meet security and fire risk requirements such as;

  • CCTV
  • Sufficient drainage
  • locked gates,
  • fencing that is at least 1.8m in height,
  • fire suppression and detection equipment,
  • centrally monitored systems
  • continual maintenance programmes.

If you’re looking to invest in or to install battery storage for your business. It’s important that you engage insurance and risk management consultants as early as possible. Insurers cover battery storage facilities on the understanding they’re able to approve;

  • the design and layout of the site
  • the batteries and components to be deployed
  • supply chains that’re deploying the system
  • the ongoing operational management.

It makes sense to maximise the return on your investment where ever possible and battery storage if definitely a way to do that with renewable energy. Make sure you take the time to get your project off to the right start to ensure its longevity and success.

 Sources:

[1] http://www.triplepundit.com/special/energy-options-pros-and-cons/energy-storage-systems-pros-cons/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/apr/06/salt-silicon-or-graphite-energy-storage-goes-beyond-lithium-ion-batteries

[3] https://www.renewableuk.com/news/425522/Energy-storage-capacity-set-to-soar-300-UK-based-companies-involved-in-new-sector.htm

[4] https://www.renewableuk.com/news/425522/Energy-storage-capacity-set-to-soar-300-UK-based-companies-involved-in-new-sector.htm

[5] https://www.boiseweekly.com/boise/megawhat/Content?oid=3433953

[6] https://www.renewableuk.com/news/425522/Energy-storage-capacity-set-to-soar-300-UK-based-companies-involved-in-new-sector.htm

[7] https://www.renewableuk.com/news/425522/Energy-storage-capacity-set-to-soar-300-UK-based-companies-involved-in-new-sector.htm

[8] https://www.businessgreen.com/bg/news/3035576/uks-largest-grid-battery-storage-facility-completed-in-hertfordshire

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/sep/27/south-australias-tesla-battery-on-track-to-make-back-a-third-of-cost-in-a-year

[10] https://www.nfpa.org/news-and-research/publications/nfpa-journal/2016/january-february-2016/features/ess/lithium-ion-conundrum

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