Cross-posted from The New York Times – see link for full article
A new cash crop has sprung up on Nicholas Beatty’s enchanting farm near here. Rows of gray solar panels range over about 25 acres, turning sunlight into electricity, as dog-size muntjac deer hop by.
The panels themselves, trouble-free money earners that feed into the electric grid, are no longer unusual on farms in Britain or other countries. What’s new in Mr. Beatty’s field is a hulking 40-foot-long shipping container.
Stacked inside, in what look like drawers, are about 200 lithium-ion cells that make up a battery large enough to store a substantial portion of the electricity the solar farm puts out.
The battery and its software give Mr. Beatty an advantage over other solar panel farmers. Power prices in Britain and elsewhere rise and fall, sometimes strikingly, during the day and over the year, depending on the supply and demand. By storing power in the battery, Mr. Beatty can feed it into the grid when prices are high. “The battery effectively takes power off the line when there is too much and puts it on when there is too little,” he said.
While he said the batteries, which are imported from China, were improving, the real key was in the electronic controls that allowed them to react almost instantaneously to the needs of the grid.
Mr. Beatty said the battery, which costs about 825,000 pounds, or $1 million, could increase revenue for his solar farm by as much as £200,000 a year. In addition to making more by timing his delivery to the grid, he said he planned to enter an auction to become a standby source of power to compensate for unexpected drops in the grid.
… Largely out of view, the panels do not detract from the gentility of the farm, where a herd of brown and white English longhorn cattle grazes in fields that are studded with pollarded oaks, possibly up to 1,200 years old.
The 17th-century stone house was once a royal hunting lodge and is full of mementos of Mr. Beatty’s trans-Atlantic pedigree. His paternal grandparents were a British battle-cruiser commander in World War I and the daughter of Marshall Field, the Chicago department store entrepreneur.
Mr. Beatty said that his experiments with batteries — the one on his farm was his second — might open his eyes to future entrepreneurial opportunities. For instance, more electric cars will require grid-management measures to accommodate surges associated with charging those vehicles. “There is going to be a need for a lot more of these to be installed,” he said of the batteries. “We think this is just the start of that process.”