The three S approach to uncertainty

Ian Marchant

Ian Marchant FEI, Immediate Past President

Life seems to be getting more and more uncertain. We are being warned about a Brexit rollercoaster and the oil price, at least in percentage terms, seems to be doing a good impersonation of an elevator; up one minute, down the next. All this uncertainty makes decision-making complex , especially when they concern long-life assets.

Against this background I have been thinking about the question of energy independence. Whilst, in my opinion, this isn’t necessarily a good goal at the national or even local level in its own right, I do believe that investing to reduce one’s dependence on and exposure to both the volatility of the global energy markets and the resilience of local energy distribution systems is something to be considered.

This is where, I believe, a combination of three Ss comes in: solar, storage and software. The cost of solar panels has come down enormously over the last ten years or so but the economics still depend upon support mechanisms, partly because of the profile of solar production. That problem will always be with us and that is where storage comes in.  Installing a suitably-sized lithium ion battery in the home or office allows much more of the solar power to be used on-site and this significantly improves the economics of the whole installation. The third leg is energy management software that can optimise on-site demand (which could include decisions on when to recharge a plug in an electric vehicle), to match the availability of locally produced or stored electricity. The same software can also be used to decide when electricity should be exported and when imported from the grid, an increasing source of value as we move to time of day pricing. Finally, the same software can work out when the stored energy can be used to provide support services such as frequency response to the local grid or through aggregation to the national grid. It really is the combination of the three that makes all this work.

Investing in solar, storage and software may not mean complete energy independence but it will certainly reduce exposure to energy uncertainty and will be an increasingly good investment in its own right. We are seeing commercial offerings starting to emerge in this space and I’m sure there will be more to come.