Renewable energy has the potential to save humankind from its potentially disastrous addiction to carbon – but there’s a problem.
Generation is coming on in leaps and bounds - only this week it was reported it had overtaken coal globally and 500,000 solar panels are switched on every day.
The problem is coping with it all.
Peak solar generation is for a few hours from noon when the sun is at its strongest – but peak demand is at teatime when kettles, ovens, lights and televisions are switched on.
And then there’s the wind, which blows when it wants to. Last year, National Grid paid wind farm operators in the UK £90m not to generate electricity because there was simply too much to handle, it is claimed. Or rather, not too much, but created at the wrong time.
Now, a South Yorkshire-based company reckons it has invented a way to bridge the ‘energy gap’ – and in its promotional video, bosses are using terms like ‘holy grail’, ‘eureka’ and ‘huge benefit to mankind’.
Cumulus Energy Storage is set to produce shipping container-sized rechargeable batteries, cheaply – the missing link in the renewable power chain.
Founder and chief executive Nick Kitchin says they could be used at national and regional level by organisations like National Grid, or commercially, by ‘energy intensive’ industries such as steelmakers forced to cut production in the evening to avoid huge fines.
And that means hundreds of jobs in new factories in South Yorkshire, he predicts.
He added: “It will be transforming, it’s a new industry developing new tech from very established battery technology.”
The firm’s products are based on copper/zinc technology which is cheap and slow release compared to the lithium ion batteries championed by the likes of Tesla. But that’s exactly what is required.
Cumulus has just moved its five UK staff into larger premises on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham, where breakthroughs are regularly reported by a cluster of hi-tech firms. It is also close to the centre of UK offshore wind generation off the East Yorkshire coast, where Dong Energy has plans for the ‘world’s biggest offshore wind farm’.
Cumulus plans to move into its own unit on the AMP in spring 2017 ahead of mass market production within the next two years.
The firm also employs 10 at a research facility in San Franscisco which it says is the ‘global epicentre of energy storage and investment’.
It has attracted £250,000 of seed investment and £800,000 from the UK Government.
Nick Kitchin predicts they will be building and selling batteries – costing about £350,000 each – from the end of 2018 and producing 1,000-a-year in 2020.
He added: “There are a lot of battery companies in the consumer market like Tesla.
“We are in the industrial and grid-scale market where there are very few suppliers and no one whose products work over four to six hours.
“We are in the high-energy, long duration sector and we are in a position to ‘make’ this market. Our location at the Technology Centre means we can work alongside some of the best minds in the field.
“It’s fantastic to be located in a place which can facilitate and support our growth.”