How Caldera aims to make the most of the UK weather

 

James Macnaghten and Guy Winstanley talk to Martin Friel about their idea for storing heat generated by offshore wind.

The Independent |

Since time immemorial, the British weather has been a cruel joke – the wind, the rain, the general but reliable misery of it all.

 

But could it be, in a world determined (at last) to eradicate carbon from energy production, that the source of misery for so many generations could actually drive an economic boom – one that could rival that of North Sea oil in the Seventies and Eighties?

 

That’s the view of James Macnaghten, CEO of Caldera, one of a number of companies seeking to tackle the “net-zero emissions by 2050” conundrum facing the UK.

“In the UK, we have lots of wind and solar generation – and much more planned – but as an island, we have very few cables connecting us to neighbouring countries,” he says.

 

He points out that the huge energy sector in Europe is seeking to decarbonise quickly – which potentially opens up opportunities for UK renewables, but only if we solve the energy storage or the cable connection problem. “

We have such good access to the North Sea, and we could become a major player in North Sea renewables if we build enough towers and blades – all of which delivers an amazing opportunity to create jobs,” he says.

 

“We could be world leaders in offshore wind, which would be a bigger boon than North Sea oil. Rather than making the transition to net zero a cost, it makes it a benefit.” However, without a solution to the problem of storing or “transporting” the excess renewable energy generated, the incentive to produce more wind or solar power is limited, potentially undermining the whole net-zero ambition.

 

Cambridge Cleantech member Caldera is one of a number of firms finding ways to meet the net – zero challenge

We throw away 6 per cent of all energy generated by wind turbines, which is enough to heat 320,000 homes a year

 

The current solution favoured by the government to decarbonise home energy is the heat pump. The average cost of these is £5,000, but in order for them to be at their most effective, many homes in the UK may have to be retrofitted with insulation – which can send the cost soaring towards £20,000.

 

Caldera thinks there is another way: one that could be cheaper to install, but also further incentivises the growth of the renewable energy sector in the UK. It’s a a heat battery, or as Macnaghten describes it, “a big lump of material that we heat up with electricity when renewables are generating. This sits inside a vacuum vessel like a thermos flask to keep the heat in, and when the homeowner wants central heating and hot water, we use the heat from the unit.”

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