YOUTH PROTESTS have thrust climate change back into the headlines – and led to fresh calls for investment in energy storage technology.

Renewable power sources are constantly being made more efficient, but the sector's main bugbear remains the sporadic nature of solar and wind, and the peaks and troughs in supply this causes. What is needed are better batteries to store power when it is plentiful, and release it when it is needed.

Ian Ellerington, head of technology transfer at The Faraday Institution, warned that an energy storage breakthrough could still be years away: “Batteries are really good at coping with peaks and troughs of four to five hours but are as yet nowhere near able to cope with days, months or seasonal shifts.

“That remains far more difficult to engineer cost-effectively. I’m not too worried as we have natural gas, but longer-term, we’ll need alternatives that provide similar flexibility."

Writing for property consultancy Galbraith, Mr Ellerington noted that cars are expected to play a big role in electricity distribution, working as mobile storage units, with drivers recharging when demand and prices are low, and being paid to feed power back into the grid at peak times.

Yet batteries alone cannot yet cope with the peaks and troughs of grid-scale supply, so the UK remains reliant on natural gas until effective alternatives are found, it is hoped before reserves run out.

Meanwhile, storage is starting to play an important role in helping grid networks balance fluctuations in the supply and demand of electricity – and the co-locating of battery storage with on-site generation from renewable sources is becoming increasingly popular with businesses, according to Joanne Plant, a planning specialist at Galbraith in Edinburgh.

Last September saw the opening of Scotland’s first utility-scale battery storage scheme at Broxburn, West Lothian, a 20MW facility that can respond to grid demands in milliseconds.

Firms are now seeking to invest in the technology to reduce their carbon footprint and their reliance on the grid while saving on energy bills, according to Ms Plant, who has expertise in the consenting process for both large-scale and smaller energy storage projects, and suggested that some in the energy industry believe more can be done to facilitate storage deployment by expanding permitted development rights to make projects more straightforward.