I want to begin a debate about eight future technologies where we believe we can be the best – where we already have an edge, but we could be world-leading.
Number 5 on Mr. Osborne’s technology shopping list he described as:
Energy Storage for the Nation: Stockpiling Electricity
More specifically he mentioned three particular areas of British expertise:
First there are the batteries in all our personal electronic devices. These use lithium ion batteries working on a chemical reaction developed at Oxford in the early 1980s. Thirty years on that basic technology is still central.
Second there is the development of battery-powered vehicles. One reason Nissan decided to produce their new all electric LEAF car here in the UK in Sunderland was the continuing support for research on innovative batteries for cars.
Third there is the challenge of storing more electricity for the Grid.
Mr. Osborne then expanded on the why and the how of the UK Government’s support for grid scale storage research and development:
Electricity demand peaks at around 60 GW, whilst we have a grid capacity of around 80 GW – but storage capacity of around just 3 GW. Greater capability to store electricity is crucial for these power sources to be viable. It promises savings on UK energy spend of up to £10 billion a year by 2050 as extra capacity for peak load is less necessary.
The Research Councils’ energy programme is investing over £500 million over this Spending Review period in energy research, including energy storage. However, urgent action is needed to accelerate translation of research into new technologies and products so that global market opportunities are realised by UK companies – and ensure the UK is established as an international focus for energy storage research and innovation.
Research projects are delivering but the UK currently lacks the test-bed demonstrator capacity and dedicated R&D facilities to take the next step in developing and testing new grid-scale energy storage technologies. We need to create them. We are funding the Energy Technologies Institute jointly with industry partners – including BP, Caterpillar, EDF Energy, E.ON, Rolls Royce and Shell – to accelerate new technologies for producing clean, reliable and affordable energy. And we are now investing £800 million with industry to maximise the funding of low carbon energy technology innovation.
Mr. Osborne ultimately concluded his speech by saying that:
It is right that, even at times of fiscal restraint, we find the resources to enable new scientific breakthroughs, to bridge the gap between discovery and commercialisation and to spread the economic and social benefits of scientific research. The prize is not just our future wealth but our health and quality of life, and our commitment to intellectual enquiry.
No one can know what the future holds. But we can discern those areas where we have particular strengths and which scientists themselves believe have the most potential. Let us identify what Britain is best at – and back it.
We have great science in Britain. We are backing it. And we will do more.
Let’s hope so! Mr. Osborne may not know what the future holds, but personally I predict a rather grim one if the UK (and indeed other nations) doesn’t get its energy R&D and broader energy policy sorted out in a hurry. Do you suppose the forthcoming Energy Bill will achieve that? Whilst we wait with bated breath to find out here’s a video in which David Clarke, Chief Executive of ETI, explains his views on “the real issue of avoiding the cost of having to upgrade our distribution network for electricity” in general, and Isentropic’s “pumped heat” thermal storage in particular: