UK Energy Firms Bring Bright Ideas to Japan

UK Companies Bring Energy Storage Solutions to Japan

The British government named energy storage as one of the UK’s eight “great technologies” in 2013, with new advances having the potential to save the UK energy system GBP4 billion by 2050 while the British energy storage sector will have grown to be worth GBP11.5 billion in that same year.

Those impressive figures have caught the attention of Japanese companies in the energy sector and there was a high degree of interest in the British firms and research institutions that took part in the six-day trade mission to Japan in February.
“I have had a very full day of meetings with major manufacturers already, companies such as Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Osaka Gas, and I think what we do has generated a lot of interest”, said Marc Stanton, of Lancashire-based Smartpower Ltd.

The company delivers solutions across the renewable and smart energy fields, including wind and solar power, smart grids, dynamic and reactive power management and energy storage, but Stanton was keen to promote a clean power solution that utilises British technology.

The system takes energy generated from solar panels or wind turbines and stores excess power in a battery bank. A portion can be used in the home, in a small industrial unit or sold back to the grid. But an additional innovation is to enhance the value of the system by adding a hydrogen tank that can be used to top up a fuel cell vehicle.

British Expertise is Highly Respected in Japan

“One of the problems with renewable energy is that it can’t always be accessed when it is most urgently needed and it can’t always be connected to the grid”, said Stanton.

The Smartpower system connects renewable energy sources to the grid and bleeds it through in a controlled and managed way.

“As a bonus, we are able to use the excess energy to create hydrogen for vehicles or to fuel the home – and that fits very neatly with what a lot of Japanese companies are looking into”, he added.

The system has already been deployed in the UK and can be transported in a single 20-foot container. Those containers could be on their way to Japan in a matter of weeks, Stanton said, but he is looking to link up with a major Japanese distributor.

“From the discussions I have had so far, companies here are interested in both energy storage solutions and the opportunities surrounding hydrogen”, Stanton said. “But we accept it can take a long time to build up the trust and the working relationship to the point at which agreements are signed.

“We need to show ourselves to be responsible and reliable partners, but I also have to understand the Japanese market and the specific needs of companies here, and that is the prime aim of this visit”.

The British delegates and representatives of dozens of Japanese firms in the energy sector Robin Grimes, chief scientific adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, underline the importance that the UK places on this sector.

“Energy storage technologies are crucial in reducing carbon emissions and balancing out the variable production of electricity from wind and solar plants”, Grimes said at a one-day seminar at the British Embassy on February 29.

“The secretary of state, Amber Rudd, has said that storage represents a fantastic opportunity for the UK and is a necessary partner to renewable generation to create a secure system”.

Japan’s Recent Liberalisation of the Electricity Sector Set to Create Business Opportunities for UK Companies in Japan

Britain can also share the valuable knowledge that it earned as the power and gas markets were liberalised in the 1990s – a course that Japan is following with the liberalisation of the electricity sector in April 2016, followed by the gas market in 2017, Grimes added.

Ben Heatley had lived and worked in Japan previously but was returning for the first time as a representative of energy innovator Dearman.

Only set up in late 2011, the firm has a technology centre in Croydon and has already built an international reputation for innovation, rigour, commercial acumen and engineering excellence.

Dearman is developing a selection of zero-emission technologies that are powered by the expansion of liquid air or nitrogen. The technologies have a wide array of applications, from refrigerated transport to commercial vehicles, said Heatley, head of corporate communications.

“We are not in Japan at the moment but we have been interested in this market since we set up and we’re trying to develop partnerships here”, he said.

Trade Missions Provide an Excellent Platform for Networking and Growing Your Business in Japan

Ideally, a Japanese partner would come in on existing projects and assist in trialling and developing systems from their early stages. Also, Dearman is hoping to be able to tap into Japanese firms’ industrialisation, which would permit the companies to grow in scale very rapidly.

“That’s the prime aim of this trip and I’m speaking with major OEMs [original equipment manufacturers], research universities and end-user companies because we feel we need a longer-term presence here”, he said. “We need to keep engaging”.
And the potential, Heatley believes, makes all the initial leg-work well with it.

“This is the third-largest economy in the world and Japan has the well-deserved reputation that if it works here, than it will work anywhere.

“We see this as a huge opportunity – and we are also very grateful to the UKTI team at the embassy for all the help and advice they have given us to get a foot in the door here”, he added.

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