Battery project on Scottish island may solve energy riddle

The Observer

Mon, Nov 11, 2013 - Page 7

The Scottish island of Gigha is to be the focus of a £2.5 million (US$4 million) experiment aimed at solving a major technological problem: How to store energy generated by wind, tide and wave power plants.

The project, which will involve building giant batteries from 75,000 liters of sulphuric acid mixed with vanadium pentoxide, is intended to allow power generated by the island’s wind turbines to be stored for later use.

At present, while Gigha’s turbines are running, their power is used to run households on the island and excess is transmitted by cable to the mainland electricity grid. When winds are low and Gigha’s turbines do not turn, the grid feeds power to the island. However, the cable link has an upper power limit. As a result, much of the island’s excess power cannot be transmitted to the mainland and is wasted.

The battery project, backed by the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change, is intended to get around this problem.

“It is not easy to store electricity on a large scale,” said Sir John Samuel of REDT, the company awarded the battery contract. “Standard lead-acid batteries generally lose their charge relatively quickly. The battery system we are involved with does not suffer from this problem.”

Samuel said the batteries would be able to store enough power to provide the island with 100 kilowatts of electricity for 12 hours when winds were low.

“The crucial point is that our batteries will be able to be used over and over again,” he added.

Scotland’s islands and remote highland regions have immense potential for wind power, as well as wave and tide power in the future, but suffer because their electricity cable links are poor and would be immensely expensive to replace. Battery storage systems could help Scotland reach its goal of meeting all its electricity needs via renewable energy by 2020.