RESPONSE TO: Energy storage technologies

Dr Radcliffe’s article Energy storage technologies (Ingenia 54) provided a good overview of the technologies and the potential that energy storage has to offer. It is hard to conceive of an electricity grid delivering meaningful quantities of renewable energy, without significant use of energy storage.

We at EA Technology first developed expertise in energy storage when, before privatisation, we operated as the Electricity Council Research Centre. Now, we advise on work with several battery storage demonstrations. We consider the practical aspects of safely deploying and managing a storage site, and devise specifications and stage test programmes to assist clients in understanding how to assimilate these assets into their business plans. These include projects on Scottish islands such as Orkney, as well as mainland locations in Scotland and England.

As Dr Radcliffe illustrated, there are many energy storage technologies being developed. However, progress has been slowed for a number of reasons. The fundamental technology barriers such as efficiency and suitability of charge and discharge characteristics are the factors that are most well-known. However, the core technology will only get to shine if it can be seamlessly integrated into existing energy networks.

Integrating these technologies into the current system is not a straightforward process: every installation requires a bespoke design. There is also a UK skills shortage in this developing area which can lead to quality issues in the design, consideration of the safety aspects of storing (and unleashing) quantities of energy, the robustness of the controls.

Currently, there are commercial barriers to storage projects, because there are cheaper alternatives, though these result in higher carbon emissions. Perhaps ironically for a concept seen as enabling effective integration of intermittent renewables, carbon emission considerations do not feature in the choice of technologies used to balance the electricity grid. The opportunities that do arise to create energy-storage facilities must be seized upon to speed change. There is considerable potential for export and UK benefit from building an indigenous supply base that is quick to respond to UK needs – these are ideally suited to public-private partnerships.

The Department for Energy and Climate Change is in the process of funding a number of feasibility studies for its Energy Storage Technology demonstration competition. A select few of these will be taken forward with project funding. These high-profile practical demonstrations of engineering potential are a welcome development, as a first step to help industry address the project and system-integration aspects crucial for building future off-the-shelf storage devices.

Dr Simon Wilson CEng
Senior Consultant, EA Technology

RESPONSE TO: Design & Technology editorial

I was very interested in the editorial More design, less handicraft (Ingenia 54). Among the several excellent points made is the distinction between modern industrial and life skills, with the need to teach these separately. I support this position and saw the Department for Education’s (DfE) proposed National Curriculum Programme of Study for Design & Technology (D&T) falling into this trap. The inclusion of cooking, maintenance and repair, and horticulture was completely inappropriate! It’s not that these aren’t important – they are, but they are not part of a rigorous D&T course.

Some time ago, there was concern that D&T might not be included in the National Curriculum. The expert panel, set up by the government to consider which subjects should be ‘in’ and ‘out’, recommended that D&T should be ‘out’ as it had weak epistemological roots and lacked disciplinary coherence. We were all pleased that the government rejected this advice but incensed at the result.

It would be difficult to imagine a Programme of Study for D&T that had weaker epistemology or less disciplinary coherence than that proposed by the DfE. Fortunately, the extensive representation from industry led by Dick Olver FREng, chair of the engineering education alliance E4E, led to the Minister of Education and Childcare, Elizabeth Truss MP, inviting the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Design & Technology Association to develop further advice and guidance.

Time was very short and there was less than one week in which to prepare this advice. The process that took place was transparent and collegial. Some 50 members of the D&T community were invited to a one-day seminar at the Academy to develop a working draft, building on work prepared in advance by a small working party. This group was constrained by the view of the D&T Association that the minister’s insistence that cooking should be included in the programme of study for D&T should not be challenged. By the end of the day, the group had developed a six-page document detailing a programme of study for D&T for ages 5-14 along with a purpose of study statement and a set of aims.

The document was further developed by a smaller group from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Design & Technology Association and then circulated to all those who had attended the seminar to gain approval that this revised document be submitted to the minister. The continued inclusion of cooking was not welcomed but the remainder of the document was such an improvement on the programme of study proposed by the DfE in February that the majority supported its submission to the minister.

The document was submitted to the minister on 22 April and it was well received. Assuming that the document does not undergo significant change to its contents with regard to those elements relevant to D&T, the subject will be in a strong position to rebuild itself as a rigorous area of study. The recently published report New Principles for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum produced by E4E will be an important resource in driving this process forward.

David Barlex
Educational Consultant
Formerly Director Nuffield Design & Technology

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