Energy storage: Dos and Don’ts when building a carbon-free energy system


Smart Energy International spoke with a scientist based in Scotland who shared the following – potentially unwelcome – advise and Dos and Donts for utilities and governments investing in energy storage in order to build a carbon-free energy system.

This article was originally published in Smart Energy International 5-2019. Read the full digimag here or subscribe to receive a print copy here.

Here is what the scientist had to say:


  1. DO build a grid that never has to import any power but which sometimes has a surplus of renewable energy to export to neighbouring grids.
  2. Ease the transition to clean energy with government investment in good renewable energy alternatives that poor people can afford to switch to; and just impose enough carbon taxes to encourage consumers to decide to switch as and when it is convenient for them to do so.
  3. DO supply your customer gas grid with bio-methane and synthetic methane (for example, produced by combining hydrogen produced from electrolysis with carbon dioxide from bio-gas using the Sabatier reaction) – which renewable energy methane will allow existing customer gas appliances to work as is.
  4. DO elect or appoint government energy ministers who are numerate and who attend to details because having the right support from government – the right encouragement, the right incentives, the right public investment in the Green New Deal – are all very useful for building a 100% renewable energy grid to serve the whole country, state, city, region etc.
  5. DO employ system design engineers who can use Computer-Aided Design (CAD) tools and the recommendations from computer modelling to design grid systems which can smooth and balance intermittent generation from wind and solar farms by installing a sufficient capacity of energy storage and renewable energy back-up power to provide power on demand, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, regardless of weather conditions.
  6. DO use a CAD tool to calculate the required capacities of all the components in your planned 100% renewable energy grid system.
  7. Calculate from your latitude or from local knowledge what your preferred mix of wind and solar energy generation will be; calculate the capacity of wind and solar farms with knowledge of local capacity factors; calculate how much energy storage capacity is needed and calculate how much back-up power you will have and will need.

The scientist is offering a free, on-line Computer-Aided Design tool. Click here for more information.


  1. Don’t ask a battery salesman to tell your country, state, city, region etc. what capacity of energy storage your system will need to match your size of wind and solar farms. A battery salesman is selfishly going to try to sell you the biggest battery which you can afford. The battery salesman will assure your accountant that [that] the biggest-you-can-afford battery is allegedly “plenty big enough for the purpose” but in reality the battery salesman’s sole selfish purpose is to make the sale.
  2. Don’t waste your money on the “biggest ever” battery because no matter how big the battery is, it will often go flat and then your grid or micro-grid will still need back-up generation from either hydro-electricity, conventional or pumped, power-to-gas (making hydrogen fuel gas from electrolysis of water), bio-fuels or synthetic fuels made using renewable energy.
  3. Don’t kid yourself that you have allegedly “built a 100% renewable energy grid” if at times you have to import power from a neighbouring grid which is generating from their own fossil-fuel power stations.
  4. Don’t trust the fossil-fuel industry smoke and mirrors scam of “carbon, capture and storage” because CCS-LEAK cannot guarantee to store carbon dioxide gas for ever and there will be a profit motive for unscrupulous commercial operators to leak carbon dioxide for free (off the books) rather than store carbon dioxide at great expense.
  5. Don’t “pay cash for ash” – as one Northern Ireland renewable energy support scheme did whereby the subsidy paid to those burning biomass was more than the cost of the fuel – so the more biomass the consumers burned, the more money they made. What a waste!
  6. Don’t be in a rush to knock down your legacy fossil-fuel power stations because they can often be cost-effectively adapted to burn bio-fuels or synthetic fuels made using renewable energy and can provide useful dispatchable back-up power in all weathers.
  7. Don’t vote for climate-change deniers.
  8. Don’t quit until you have weaned your electricity and gas grids off fossil fuel as the first steps in the transition to 100% renewable energy and net-zero global warming emissions – because the cleaner, greener world we all want to live in will be well worth it.

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