Down on the farm - watts happening with battery storage?

Sally McFadden of Thomson & Bancks Solicitors on the new developments in renewable energy sources and lithium-ion battery storage, and what this means for farms

"I am very interested in using renewable energy sources at my farm having seen how much can now be achieved. I need some help to decide what’s best - I am considering lithium-ion battery storage but I am worried about energy gap and tariffs – what do you think?"

I think you are very sensible. Alternative sources of renewable energy for farms and rural areas have been fairly turbulent in the past few years. Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels, wind turbines and biomass and anaerobic digestion plants have both benefited from and been curbed by government initiatives and planning policy.  

New take up of commercial PV schemes has decreased since the feed-in tariff rates have been cut, however this could all be set to change. Recent developments in battery storage technology could radically transform the way we create and use energy. The improvements in lithium-ion battery technology means that energy from renewable sources can now be captured and used when needed. 

Adding battery storage to existing renewables systems gives you flexibility on how and when you use the energy. It allows you to increase your own consumption and reduce your reliance on the grid. Energy can be stored and either used on-site when it is needed or if produced on a sufficiently larger scale, stored and sold back to the National Grid at peak times when it is most profitable for you. Either way there is no longer the same reliance on the feed-in tariffs to make use of renewables economically viable.

Three things to look for when choosing a battery storage system

  • Cycles: A cycle is one complete discharge and one complete charge, however in practice a full cycle rarely happens, if you only discharge and recharge 50% this will be a half cycle.  You should check the number of cycles the battery is warranted for.  
  • Capacity: Batteries should never be allowed to be drained completely, check the description carefully as some manufacturers refer to ‘total’ capacity, however what you need to know is the ‘useable capacity’. Also check the output is high enough for you to draw off what you need.
  • Kilowatts: Check the price per kilowatt hour against the grid price as some systems offer discounted and fixed rates which can mean you pay less than the current grid rate.

Advances with battery storage could see an increase in ‘Energy Barns’. Electricity has historically been sent through the grid from large scale power stations located close to major urban centres, which means grid capacity in rural areas is naturally lower, as it’s further removed from the power source. Energy barns are well suited to agricultural areas. These steel framed structures look like conventional agricultural buildings but are racked out with lithium-ion batteries, inverters and transformers. The energy barn is connected to the grid via a small substation enabling the batteries to store electricity charging from the grid, feeding it back again when it is needed in the area.

The development of energy barns could transform the availability of power in rural areas. For example, energy from solar photovoltaic panels could be captured, stored in an energy barn and used as required to supply farms, commercial units or even rural housing. The removal of the reliance on feed-in tariffs brings much greater potential and flexibility with localised generation and use of energy enabling rural areas to become more self-sufficient.

Whilst there are still obstacles with planning for some renewable technologies, the increasing demand for energy especially with the push for electric vehicles etc and the emerging energy gap means could result in more flexible planning policy for some renewable schemes. The impact of lithium-ion battery storage is likely to be a real game-changer, revolutionising the way we look at renewable energy production and use, particularly in rural areas.

Sally McFadden is an Associate Solicitor in the Business Services Team at Thomson & Bancks LLP dealing with all commercial property matters for a mix of business, agricultural and not-for-profit clients. She also has niche specialist experience on agricultural matters and energy and renewables. To speak to Sally call 01684 299633 or visit www.tbsolicitors.co.uk