Critics of renewable energy will often cite intermittency as a fatal flaw. The wind doesn't always blow, and the sun doesn't always shine, so how can we possibly run our energy grid off of unreliable natural sources.
Fortunately, some very smart minds are working to figure this puzzle out.
From storing wind energy in compressed air to old electric car batteries finding a second home as grid storage, we've already seen plenty of ideas for how to make this work. And there's been much speculation that grid-scale storage for renewables is finally coming of age.
A pilot project in Leighton Buzzard looks set to take us a step closer to that goal. Business Green reports that English utility UK Power Networks will be installing a 6MW battery at a substation in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. Interestingly, the focus isn't simply on making wind and solar more reliable, but rather showing that large-scale storage may provide a viable, cost effective alternative to other network upgrades:
Speaking to BusinessGreen, Nick Heyward, commercial manager for UK Power Networks explained that the scheme was designed to show how energy storage could be £6m cheaper than traditional upgrade programmes.
"Leighton Buzzard has a particular need for larger network capacity, so we've chosen storage and that means we don't need to do the conventional reinforcement for 10-20 years in the future," he said.
We should be careful about reading too much into a project like this—it is still very much an attempt to both prove viability and test out any regulatory and operational hurdles grid operators may face in incorporating battery storage. According to the Smarter Network Storage project page at Ofgem, Britain's energy regulator which is providing financing for the project, the project will involve both installation and optimization of 6MW/10MWh battery and will look at a range of commercial applications to ascertain how best a system like this might be used by commercial operators.