As the popularity of solar energy continues to grow, one of the challenges that remains to be overcome is its relative lack of flexibility.
The issue has to do with storage. Significant amounts of renewable electricity are currently being generated — both industrially and by individual households — but sufficient infrastructure to store this electricity is lacking.
Usually, the surplus production can be exported into the grid, but in some cases congestion can occur. The grid, after all, was not developed to deal with high solar input.
To make the solar program work, companies in the United Kingdom turned to Donite Plastics, a thermoforming business located in Saintfield, Northern Ireland, to come up with a safe way to store the batteries collecting solar energy for later use.
Project Girona, spearheaded by the Electric Storage Co. in Belfast, aimed at giving people "fuel choice and energy flexibility as a service."
Customers can collect energy from solar panels on their property, then store it in a battery housed within Donite's thermoformed system.
"Our project is all about enabling the residents of Northern Ireland to utilize solar power alongside battery storage in their homes. The electricity that will be generated can be used for various things including lighting, cooking and heating," said Anne Marie McGoldrick of Electric Storage.
"Currently approximately 70 percent of electricity is generated from renewable sources in Northern Ireland but 50 percent of that electricity is discarded because there is no mechanism to store it — that's where our batteries come in. Project Girona is installing batteries in households and solar panels, where required, so that people can generate and store all the energy from their roof and use it whenever they need it," McGoldrick said.
It soon became apparent, however, that the batteries would require some sort of protective housing.
That's when Donite Plastics helped come up with a solution.
"Sustainability and care for the environment is something Donite Plastics takes very seriously. We jumped at the chance to be able to work on a project that so closely aligns with our company's ethos," said Patrick Knight, Donite Plastics' engineering manager.
Initially, the plan was to produce only a cover, which would protect the energy storage batteries from vandalism. However, this quickly evolved to include a complete cabinet that would secure and protect the batteries from dust and water damage for their full, 15-year life.
The result is a compactly designed battery housing that provides the batteries with robust protection.
"Once the stored electricity has been used, the smart battery will revert back to the grid so residents will never be without electricity. The project is all about proving this design and customer experience before we roll it out further," McGoldrick said.
"We're hoping that many more people in Northern Ireland will convert to renewable energy sources and use electric vehicles, it will reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and will lead to a reduction in emissions and air pollution," she added.