Most renewable energy generators provide an intermittent supply of electricity – that is the electricity cannot be supplied when we need it but when the conditions are right for generation. For example, solar panels only provide electricity when the sun is shining, but we need lights and heating at night. Wind turbines only generate electricity when the wind is blowing, but we need electricity to cover hospitals, our businesses and schools 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Typically coal and gas fired power stations have been the most cost effective method of providing base load electricity and for rapid ramp up when there are spikes in the need for electricity. In fact over 40 per cent of the world’s electricity has been supplied by coal for this reason.
Until very recently there has been no way to store excess power generated and save it for a time when we need it cost effectively. Innovations in battery technology and the belief that households will be keen to take up batteries is increasing the level of investment in the areas and bringing the cost of batteries down. What's more, it is making batteries large and cheap enough to be used for the home, and by networks and generators to support the supply of electricity. It is now approaching a point where it will be cost effective in some situations to store electricity for household, business and industrial use.
Batteries convert electrical energy into chemical energy and then back again when we need it. Household size batteries are ‘lithium-ion’ rechargeable batteries – much the same as in mobile phones but on a much larger scale. A battery includes three main components, an anode (negative charged electrode) a cathode (positive charged electrode) and an electrolyte or chemical between them. When connected in a circuit – for example to your household meter box and you turn on your lights – a chemical reaction occurs that results in electrons being dislodged from their atomic structure and flowing to the charged ends of the battery. Lithium-ion batteries are particularly good at continual reversal of this process, as they can be charged and discharged (used and recharged) multiple times.
Western Power is looking carefully at how battery storage can be effectively utilised across the network. This includes making use of the technology as part of three important pilot projects. Please refer to the following project pages for more information: