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The brains behind the battery: How software is optimising energy storage

Battery energy storage systems can be turbocharged through the use of smart software.
Battery energy storage systems can be turbocharged through the use of smart software.

Eunice Mabey, Director of Digital Services, SSE Energy Solutions, discusses the importance of battery energy storage to the future of the grid, especially when paired with a brain. 

The transition to clean, renewable energy is anything but a straight road. The destination is clear, the route a little less so. One thing is certain, however; we’re going to need to significantly increase battery storage capacity.

Under the National Grid’s ‘Leading the Way’ measure (their best-case scenario), it estimates the UK will have battery storage capacity of 20GW by 2030 and 35GW by 2050. The UK’s current battery storage capacity is just over 2.5GW.

Battery technology has come a long way since they were required to power a small, pink bunny and its little drum – but they remain simple things. Storage they can do, but not much more. The biggest battery in the UK today has a capacity of 99MW, and there are several large battery projects underway here already, but there will need to be significant investment in systems that allow for smarter integration of these facilities into the wider energy system.

Smarter. That’s the keyword here. Like Atlas holding the weight of the world on his shoulders, smart energy systems take the strain but, unlike Atlas, they are quite happy doing so. Smart batteries can help balance the supply and demand of energy by storing excess during high periods of renewable penetration and supplying it during periods of high demand. This is essential because the one big problem with renewable energy is its intermittency.

It’s worth noting that the global battery management system market was estimated to be worth more than £6 billion pounds in 2022 and is expected to reach more than £40 billion by 2032.

Energy generation has been decentralised with more smaller scale users connecting their own turbines, solar panels, or batteries. Software that manages batteries, BESS (Battery Energy Storage Systems), is not new, of course, but as demand for stored energy increases, the systems that manage them will need to keep pace.

So, let’s look at two different types of batteries – the smaller, behind-the-meter ones and the larger, grid scale, front-of-meter batteries.

Smaller users have different requirements. Most will not consider the need to trade their energy on the wholesale energy market or engage with the Balancing Mechanism, the open auction through which the National Grid balances power to keep it in balance. These users, typically homeowners with rooftop solar panels or small businesses, simply want to ensure they have energy stored in case of emergency. Frankly, these batteries do not need to be as ‘ smart’.

As an incentive the government is looking to remove VAT on residential battery storage when installed in conjunction with rooftop solar systems. With the right battery, it is possible for a household to program the storage system to charge at a cheap rate from the grid to supply the full demand of the property which could reduce a home’s electricity bill by up to half.

Much more is required of grid-scale batteries. These batteries need to both store large amounts of energy but also integrate intelligently with the wider energy system.

In pondering the best management system for larger batteries, asset owners should consider these key points.

Who’s the brains of the operation?

The best software to operate the battery depends on what the asset owner wants to do with the battery. They can provide a route to market for storage systems that are off-grid, and support National Grid and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) by reducing peak demand and supporting renewable output.

Safety is also a key consideration, and an intuitive application should prevent overcharging, over-discharging and protect against short-circuiting. Accurate monitoring is also essential as it will prolong the life of the battery.

The user experience of the software is crucial. Transitioning from one function to another should be effortless and provide you with all the data, analytics, and information you need for financial reporting, tracking, and record keeping. Software that sends you notifications on benchmarks you want to keep track of just makes owning and managing a flexible asset like a battery so much easier.

Foreseeable future for flexibility

Last winter National Grid trialled its Demand Flexibility Service (DFS) which ran until March 31. The initiative paid bill payers to reduce their average consumption during peak times, easing the pressures on the grid, saving over 3,300MW of electricity. That’s enough to power 10 million homes for an hour across Great Britain, according to the National Grid Electricity System Operator.

When energy supplies were at their tightest, the National Grid was forced to ask two energy companies to start warming three mothballed coal power stations at various times throughout the winter as a precaution in case electricity demand rose higher than the grid could deliver. National Grid is currently reviewing DFS with energy suppliers to look at how the service could be improved before this winter.

As energy storage systems become more popular and the software that manages and optimises assets improves, they could soon be delivering the majority of the electricity the country consumes, by storing intermittent wind and solar energy, keeping the system in balance, and reducing costs. This could make DFS redundant.

Reduce the carbon intensity on the grid.

Smart systems can reduce the carbon footprint by as much as 90%. Platforms which provide carbon footprint monitoring will inform a business what part of their operations are the most polluting by tracking metrics such as carbon intensity and total emissions.

There’s a dual win here. Obviously, you’ll be playing your part in the battle against climate change but there’s increasing evidence that customers are considering the carbon footprint of businesses when choosing how to spend their money.

When it comes to BESS, it’s not a one size fits all scenario so be sure to do your research and get the system that’s right for you. As an industry we are acutely aware of the need for smarter systems across the board and batteries will play a key part over the next decade.

Eunice Mabey

Director of Digital Services at SSE Energy Solutions

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