Blink and you missed the announcement. But last Friday, the UK’s much criticised energy supply grid system entered what is being seen as a “new era” with the announcement that eight large battery systems are being built to cope with the growing influx of wind and solar power.
The deal – the largest of its kind in Europe – will see seven companies, including Sweden’s Vattenfall and UK-based Renewable Energy Systems, install eight lithium-ion battery systems around Britain.
“This is the single largest contract in Europe we’ve ever seen for storage and the largest of its kind globally since August last year,” Logan Goldie-Scot, head of energy storage at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance research group told the Financial Times.
Storing electricity in batteries has long seen as the “holy grail” for renewables as battery storage of electricity helps to supply power on the days that the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining.
And the move is aimed at helping the UK cope with the growing prevalence of renewables, which now account for a quarter of UK electricity generation, up from 9 per cent in just five years.
If renewables can provide electricity to the grid which can be stored when demand is needed it will help the electric car revolution that is taking place. Just as the electricity supply network needs storage in batteries so do electric cars, and it is a shortage of batteries which is threatening to keep the price of electric vehicles high for the time being.
But Tesla is changing the game on electric vehicles, a subject explored in today’s Financial Times, which asks what it calls a profound question: “Could electric cars ever cut the world’s thirst for oil enough to depress crude prices significantly?”
And the short answer is: Yes.
There are now over 1.2 million electric vehicles on the world’s roads, up from just 6,000 just seven years ago. This year alone there are predicted to be 850,000 new plug-in vehicles heading onto our streets.
The shift means that even the most die-hard oilman is taking notice, despite the fact that Exxon and OPEC have been publicly dismissive of the threat from electric vehicles.
“Everybody is paying attention,” Michael Wojciechowski, a Houston-based oil analyst at the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie tells the paper. “This thing has the potential to really start to take off.”
IEA chief economist Laszlo Varro adds: “Electric cars are roughly where solar power was 10 years ago in terms of their impact on commodity markets. Today, solar is a multibillion-dollar business which has a significant impact.”
Such is the speed of growth that by 2040, electric vehicles may make up 25 per cent of the world’s vehicle fleet. If this happens it will lead to a fourteen per cent drop in oil demand.
However, for electric vehicles to become mainstream the industry has to crack its battery problem and bring the price of the vehicle down. Whereas most car makers are reluctant to build their own batteries, not so Tesla. The company is building a battery “gigafactory” in Nevada.
Tesla recently unveiled a battery that can do 315 miles on a charge, up from 170 miles – which should overcome the issues of “range anxiety”.
The FT points out that although subsidies for buying an electric vehicle are available in most European countries as well as China, the US, Turkey and Canada, “in almost all of these, the current schemes will expire within five years.”
However, once electric vehicles can bring the cost down to that of a conventional vehicle then analysts believe the number of electric vehicles will soar.
And the day of mass adoption of electric vehicles is coming and is “much sooner than most people realize,” according to a commentator in the Wall Street Journal, in part due to reduced battery and vehicle costs.
Just as vehicle costs are key so too is the number of charging points: Pasquale Romano, chief executive of ChargePoint Inc, the world’s largest maker of electric-car charging stations, tells the WSJ that most major car companies have “internal plans to just electrify everything”.
Mike Fox, executive director of Gasoline & Automotive Services Dealers of America believes that electric vehicles represent “a clear and present threat to the gasoline engine.” If Tesla can deliver on time and cost of its much publicised Model 3, Fox says: “gas vehicles are history.”