Solar Impulse , batteries and the national grid

  • Solar panels take to the air to prove “sustainability”
  • Batteries will change how electricity is generated and used
  • This will postpone the day that demand exceeds generation capacity
  • Government should be supporting battery research

By Bill Butterworth

6 April 15


The departure of Solar Impulse on its attempt to fly round the world on solar power may or may not succeed without a hitch.  Succeed or not, it already has chalked up the long lasting effect it was set up for; marking a cross roads, a sea change, in where solar power is.

This event is important for one fundamental reason; the aircraft uses batteries to be able to fly at night. It is the ability to store electrical power which will change the way power is distributed.  The UK national grid was designed to take electricity from very large and remote power stations to the point of use. What batteries enable is the storage and use of power on a local basis.  This allows small scale power generation to reduce peak loads on the grid and that in itself will postpone the day when peak power demand exceeds the capacity of the grid and large areas shut down.  It would also allow local power generation and use to be used without the grid.

There is also an embarrassment for Edison who might turn in his grave.  Edison had a choice between DC and AC and went for the latter.  The possibility of an continental super grid, working on DC, plus most renewable energy being actually produced as DC, may mean he was wrong as far as current circumstances are involved.

Interesting times ahead.