In a particularly cruel twist of fate, 2021 was not just the year gas prices rocketed but also the one where the wind didn’t blow.
As breezes dropped to their slowest speeds in 60 years, Britain was forced to fire up “dirty” coal power stations and fresh questions were asked about inherently less reliable renewable energy sources.
Yet some energy experts say they have the answer, and it may be sitting on your driveway.
The crux of the problem is simple. Taken together, the UK’s wind farms can already produce a formidable 12 gigawatts of power – and this is set to quadruple by 2030.
But the turbines aren’t always turning when we need them to be, meaning there are periods where energy effectively goes to waste.
The solution is to consume or store this energy when it is not needed – for example at night – and deploy it when demand returns.
Battery storage sites are likely to be a key plank of our future power grid, but now the National Grid, along with domestic energy supplier Octopus, plan to supplement this with power taken directly from electric vehicle batteries.
As more and more of us drive electric cars, the operator plans to draw energy from them while they sit on driveways around the UK.
By connecting them up to the grid, experts believe they could save billions of pounds that would otherwise be needed in new energy infrastructure.
Programming them to charge overnight would help reduce the strain on the grid during the busiest hours – usually around tea time.
But perhaps most importantly, they can also potentially help to alleviate demand shocks by feeding power back into the network when it is most needed. A special kind of electric car charger that can drain power from a car rather than just dispense it makes such a scenario possible.
According to Octopus Energy, which is running a trial of this “vehicle-to-grid technology”, a typical electric car has an output of seven kilowatt hours and most households at peak times only require about three kilowatt hours. It means each car could have around four kilowatt hours to spare.