How the UK government is failing storage

By BEN COOK

  • UK falling behind peers on storage innovation
  • Japan leading the way on European storage patent applications
  • UK storage innovation investment must increase by ‘factor of five’

The UK is “lagging behind its peers” in the energy storage innovation race.

That was the conclusion of a recent paper published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, entitled ‘Go Big or Go Home: The UK’s Chance to Win at Energy Storage Innovation’.

And there is evidence that backs up this assertion.

Patent applications: UK performing poorly

One way of measuring how well a country is performing in the context of innovation is to look at data covering the filing of patent applications.

A report published by the Energy Systems and Policy Analysis Group at the University of Birmingham highlighted that, according to European Patent Office figures, Japan was the origin of almost 9,000 energy storage patent applications over a 20-year period between 2000 and 2020. Meanwhile, inventors from the US had filed just under 8,000 applications. The data also showed that China had filed almost 6,000 storage patent applications during the period, while South Korea filed slightly more than 5,000.

So, the Japanese are clearly bossing energy storage innovation at present, but how does the UK compare?

The European Patent Office data revealed that – in contrast to the aforementioned countries – energy storage patent applications originating in the UK during the period 2000 to 2020 totalled approximately 500, roughly one-seventeenth of the number originating in Japan.

Research outputs: China leading the way

Let’s now look at energy storage research. How well is the UK performing in this field?

The University of Birmingham study included a section on energy storage research outputs – the conclusions made similarly grim reading from a UK perspective.

The study included data on the number of energy storage research papers that had been published by academic institutions, which, the study said, provided an “indication of international academic capability”.

So what does the data reveal? China is leading the way with almost 75,000 energy storage articles published during the period 2000 to 2020. Meanwhile, the US published approximately 27,000, South Korea around 12,000, and India, Japan and Germany published just shy of 10,000 each.

How did the UK compare? The University of Birmingham study revealed that the UK had published around 5,000 articles during the 20-year period in question.

UK ‘missing opportunity’

What conclusions can we draw from this data?

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change states that the UK is missing out an opportunity to “step up and become a global LES [large energy storage] leader”.

Furthermore, the institute says that, if the UK does wish to establish itself as a leader in this area, it must first achieve the following:

  • Most importantly, the UK must get better at delivering “demonstration support programmes” complete with an incentive for nascent technologies
  • It must grow its annual investment in LES innovation by “at least a factor of five” before 2030 to secure a global leadership spot
  • It is also critical that the UK prioritises high technology performance standards, engages collaboratively with the market, diversifies the demonstration portfolio and simplifies the funding framework.

The institute concludes: “If the government gets this right and helps scale LES technologies at speed, there is a huge opportunity.”

Clarity over routes to market and revenue streams needed

It’s clear that energy storage innovation is largely unsupported in the UK and woefully underfunded.

As a result, the UK government is passing up the opportunity to become a global leader in the field.

In addition to needing a wide range of green-innovation initiatives, the UK needs a comprehensive vision for the long-term future of the LES sector, which is what the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has called for.

What detail should this vision include?

According to the institute, the vision should be:

  1. Clear on the route to market for emerging LES technologies, and
  2. Explicit about how operators will gain optimal access to multiple revenue streams.

Following this path would significantly increase the amount of investment in UK energy storage innovation and put the nation on the road to becoming a global leader in the field.

Whether the UK government possesses the necessary vision to capitalise on this opportunity remains to be seen.

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