The rapid deployment of variable renewable electricity in the UK will make it more challenging to balance the supply and demand of energy. Over the last five years, the potential for energy storage to meet this challenge has been recognised by industry and policy makers. Other global drivers of energy system change show the wider opportunity: providing remote communities with access to power, increasing urbanisation, and ageing infrastructure. The characteristics of energy storage can range from meeting the needs of individuals and households, to local/city distribution networks, to those of the high-voltage transmission grid. But advances, in energy storage devices themselves and their integration into systems, are needed to meet the required performance and cost levels.
With a strong research and industry base, the UK can be at the forefront of innovation in energy storage, capturing value in the global market. To these ends, the Government invested £30m in energy storage facilities under the 'Eight Great Technologies' call, providing state-of-the-art equipment in five university consortia for the development and testing of technologies that span application areas. However, whilst funding was made available for capital expenditure, no dedicated funding for undertaking research was attached.
We propose a truly interdisciplinary programme building on this investment to tackle some key challenges facing the energy storage community. We have designed a programme which will draw on the collective expertise and facilities that exist in the consortia to tackle research questions that span the storage technologies being developed, and to maximise the impact of the test-bed demonstrators.
Our approach is to address a set of research questions that apply across the technologies supported by the capital investment. We will consider the key challenges, across length scales, from materials to devices, to systems, specifically addressing:
- How the materials used in enery storage technologies, including batteries and thermal energy
- How processes are modelled in the technologies, and validating the models with experiments
- How energy storage devices can be integrated into the energy system most effectively
- How data from operational runs of pilot plants can improve our understanding of the role of energy storage
This project can be the catalyst which leads to improved understanding of physical processes, accelerated technology development, and shared learning from the operation of energy storage technologies. The research will also drive further collaboration between institutions, build the national research and innovation community, increase recognition of the UK's role, and maximise the impact from these facilities in the international energy landscape.
The consortia demonstrated excellence in research capability as part of their original capital grant bids. This project draws on this expertise directly with the involvement of senior investigators who have internationally leading reputations. We will also benefit from the additional support of technology users from across the energy sector, as well as the links through the individual consortia Advisory Boards.