“Is this the answer?” was the question I had in the back of my mind before trying my best to learn the lingo and ingratiate myself as an incumbent into the BESS community (lovely people by the way). Invariably humanity sets out on a mission to solve a problem and then creates another one. Lead was used as an additive in petrol to prevent engine knocking but it was toxic. CFCs were created as refrigerants to displace ammonia, chloromethane and sulfur dioxide but left us with a hole in the ozone layer. Wind turbines and solar panels displace fossil fuels but are not able to provide predictable baseline generation and fast frequency response. Does BESS solve this problem for good or create another problem to solve?

The themes of the conference (8th Annual Energy Storage Conference in London 03/02/2023) were: grid connection availability, consent issues, fire suppression and supply chain cost variability (price of batteries going up between FID and construction). UK and Germany are poised to be the core growth markets with Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Israel also following suit. Lithium seems comfortable in FFR <50ms and up to 2 hours. It is unable to span the 4 hour evening peak loads but the technology could be developed within a year if there was government incentive to do so. Ten years of BESS operational life is par for the course after 1.5 years in development so everything seems quick and tidy and by the end of the year the UK should have 4GW of BESS storage under its belt. Indeed most developers and operator now paperclips BESS capacity to their planning application.

So, yes in theory BESS could help us to displace thermal and transition to finally kicking fossil fuels. With a good government policy landscape, capitalism, DNO education and technological advances it would enable the industry to mature and flourish with urgency and vigour. Indeed, a lot of the signs are already there: development finance is readily available, oil and gas majors are buying up companies and developing projects and there is a steady supply of Peroni for networking drinks (fancy!). So, why am I nervous in plunging onto the bandwagon? Why haven’t I swapped my old VW for an EV?

Firstly, ethics. Renewable energy has to be by definition renewable but BESS needs lithium which is a mineral and therefore a finite resource. It is no secret that some lithium is open surface mined in the DRC by children, sent to China for processing and then to Europe or America in shiny green packaging. Having done a lap of the planet people then drive their new 3 tonne EVs with all the smugness of a person who knows they aren’t polluting their city. More recently Iran announced that it is sitting on the second largest Lithium deposit in the world which when folded in with women’s rights violations is lining it up for some good old fashioned US democracy. Once the lithium is out of the ground and into cells can we recycle it? Properly sealing the cells for safety (reduction of fire risk) makes them difficult to recycle and recover the precious metals but there are some advancements coming in this area and recycling rates are well into the nineties. The good news is that EV car users and BESS developers are asking for raw material audits so this should solve itself in developed countries at least providing the economics still stacks up. Rarely is an industry ethical from the start (see wind turbine blade recycling) but there is enough unsolved to give me commitment concerns. I need to educate myself further in this area.

Secondly, to socialised energy. A 75kWh EV battery sat on every driveway in Britain hooked up to the smart grid both socialises the deployment cost and sale of energy storage at the point of consumption. This is where it gets exciting. You could either set a manual limit on your minimum required range or your car could use your journey habits to sell excess charge to the grid when it needs and draw down when its cheap (when the wind blows or at night) and sell when its high (dinner time). A 50MW utility scale BESS project would be in equivalence to only 666 Tesla Model S. However socialism is not something as a country we do well and this is where cynicism spits in the eye of idealism.

At the start of the Ukrainian war where Musk was asked whether he could disable the Tesla’s owned by Russian oligarchs remotely. The answer was technically yes, but ethically (read share price) no. In addition, Ford has just patented a return to dealer feature for their EVs, playing annoying chimes, disabling the air-con and radio and if warnings were ignored ultimately driving back to base. Very amusing especially when you consider the possibility of a someone writing country song about their truck leaving them.

Well, Alex, couldn’t you just make your car payments and allow corporations to harvest your car conversations, poor music taste (and bad singing) and data? Well, yeah but I don’t trust corporations or the UK government. At a time in British history when we are privatising the crown jewels of our public services (trains, NHS, water) at a cost of ethics (fair pay, service levels and environment) and reducing our right to protest, living standards and ability to strike I am reluctant to throw my metaphorical keys to the drunkest man in the bar who would sell his own mother’s wooden leg. There are examples of good energy policy in the UK but greed tends to win out in matters of public assets.

In all nascent industries you need good ideas, enthusiastic people, legislative drivers and finance to get things moving. These are all present and so success is inevitable. A lot of new and old wind farms and solar parks are getting planning for BESS (co-location) which is only a good thing and will deliver much needed BMs to enable further renewable energy deployment (we’re up to 40% now in the UK). It’s something I am proud to be involved with in a small way as a representative of a BESS controller integrator to solve problems in grid integration and communication with discrete technologies. The joy of working in clean energy is that there are lots of problems to solve and always new technologies to bring into the fold. I couldn’t work anywhere else!


BM – Balancing mechanism

FFR – Fast Frequency Response

EFR – Enhanced frequency response

DC – Dynamic containment

BESS – Battery energy storage system


TLDR; Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam are better than Nirvana.

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