The Role of a Battery in Meeting Winter Electricity Demand

Click Image for a larger version. The 23rd November 2021 was a glorious day in West London.

Friends, these last few days of November have finally been cold enough for all the parts of my plan for a low-emissions home to come together.

  • The triple glazing and external wall insulation are reducing the heating required to keep the house comfortable.
  • The air source heat pump is reducing the amount of energy required to produce that heat.
  • The battery is charging itself at night on cheap electricity and running the house during the day, only running out of charge in the evening.
  • And on sunny days, the solar panels are topping up the battery during the day!

And so far, nothing major has gone wrong!

In this article I will outline the role of the battery in all of this by looking at how the battery operated during two recent quite chilly days, one sunny and one dull.

Battery: Capacity

The battery is a Tesla Powerwall 2, with 13.5 kWh of storage. This is large for a domestic battery but still only 25% the capacity of a typical mid-size EV battery.

We use about 10 kWh/day of electricity for day-to-day living, and in summer the battery and solar PV allow us to operate off-grid for almost 6 months.

But now we are heating our home electrically, and expect to have to provide around 50 kWh/day of heating – something achieved using around 15 kWh/day of electricity using an air source heat pump.

So winter demand is expected to be around 25 kWh/day of electricity – roughly twice as much electricity as the battery can store.

So in winter the main role of the battery is to allow us to buy cheap rate electricity, and then use it later in the day, minimising the cost of the extra electricity we are using for heating.

Battery: Losses

Intrinsically, battery cells can only store DC electricity, but the Powerwall needs to store and discharge AC electricity.

So the Powerwall, includes an AC to DC converter on its charging input and a DC to AC converter (called an inverter) on its output. Overall, it promises to deliver back 90% of the electric energy stored in it.  Tesla call this ‘90% round trip efficiency’.

Additionally the battery requires power to maintain itself: it needs to keep its internal controllers going, and to operate a heating and cooling system to maintain the battery at a suitable temperature during charging and discharging in order to ensure the longevity of the battery. Tesla guarantee that the battery will retain 80% capacity after 10 years.

These two effects – round trip efficiency and self-consumption – make it difficult to estimate the so-called ‘state of charge’ of the battery (SOC) i.e. how ‘full’ it is. This is because energy stored in the battery seems to slowly disappear and it is not clear quite how to account for that.

So I have crudely approximated both effects by a simple average power loss in the battery, typically between 100 W (2.4 kWh/day) and 150 W (3.6 kWh/day). I have then adjusted this rate to make sure the Powerwall is ’empty’ at approximately the observed time. The Powerwall also reports what ‘it’ thinks it’s internal state of charge is.

Household Demand

The graph below shows that household demand on Tuesday 23rd November 2021 and Wednesday 24th November 2021 was broadly similar.

Click Image for a larger version. Household demand on the 23rd and 24th November. Most of the roughly 1 kW of demand is from the heat pump (~0.6kW).

Normal non-heating household demand is typically ~10 kWh/day but on these days, the house used ~24 kWh of electricity with ~15 kWh being used to operate the heat pump to provide hot water and space heating:

The battery itself seemed to consume about 3 kWh with probably ~1.3 kWh of that being round-trip losses, and 1.7 kWh (~70 W) being self-consumed to maintain its temperature and operating system.

State of Charge

The graph below shows both my estimate of the state of charge of the battery (i.e. how full it is ) through each day. Also shown as red dots is the self-reported state of charge of the battery.

Click Image for a larger version. The estimated state of charge (SOC) of the battery (kWh) during the 23rd and 24th November. The green line is my estimate and the red dots show the battery’s self-reported estimate. Also shown is the solar power (kW) during the day which was substantial on the 23rd – enough to meet household demand and partially re-charge the battery – but not very substantial on the 24th. The green dotted line shows how the battery would discharge if there were no ‘solar boost’

The overall uncertainty in my estimate of the state of charge is quite large – perhaps about 0.5 kWh – as shown by the fact that on the 23rd the battery apparently ‘overfills’ and the 24th it ‘underfills’. However my estimates do coincide reasonably well with the Powerwall’s own estimates.

  • On the 23rd, the battery was initially not quite empty and then charged at approximately 3.6 kW using off-peak electricity available from 0:30 to 04:30. It discharged during the day at around 1 kW, and then after being boosted by 7.4 kWh of solar PV, ran out of charge between 23:00 and 24:00. That evening I was obliged to purchase only ~ 0.5 kWh of full-price electricity.
  • On the 24th, the battery was initially empty and then charged at approximately 3.6 kW using off-peak electricity available from 0:30 to 04:30. Discharging at ~1 kW as on the 23rd, but with just 0.94 kWh of ‘solar boost’, it ran out of charge between 18:00 and 19:00. That evening I was obliged to purchase ~5.4 kWh of full-price electricity!

Because the battery had been fully charged and emptied on the 24th, I could evaluate its round trip efficiency using data reported by the battery itself. It reported that it had received 13.4 kWh of charge and discharged 12.1 kWh – just over 90% of the charge, which is in line with specification. But I do not think this figure includes ‘self-consumption’ which I believe appears as a ‘phantom’ domestic load.

Click Image for a larger version. Grid use during the 23rd was almost exclusively during the cheap rate when the battery was charged while using cheap-rate electricity operate the domestic load, including a dishwasher cycle. On the 24th the battery ran out in the early evening and around 5.5 kWh of full price grid electricity was used.

This behaviour makes sense in general terms. If the battery is full (13.5 kWh) at 4:30 a.m., and demand is around 1 kW, then we would expect the battery to run out 13.5 h later i.e. around 6:00 p.m.. Each kWh of solar generation delays that time by an hour.

Costs & Carbon Emissions.

In the Table below I have summarised as best I can the costs and carbon emissions arising from the house on these two days and compared them with two alternative situations:

  • The first imagines that we had the same solar PV, and heated the house with a heat pump but with no battery.
  • The second imagines that we had the same solar PV, but heated the house with a gas boiler.

Click the image for a larger version of the table. Entries associated with burning gas are coloured in blue. Calaulations are bsed on Electricity prices of 5p/kWh (off-peak) and 16.3 p/kWh (peak) and gas prices of 3.83 p/kWh.

The analysis and evaluation of the alternative scenarios is tedious beyond measure, so allow me to simply summarise.

In terms of money:

  • The battery saves lots of money every day, with or without the ‘solar boost’.
  • It makes the use of an ASHP not only low-carbon, but also very cheap.

In terms of carbon dioxide emissions:

  • The battery reduces ‘my’ carbon dioxide emissions by optimally capturing solar energy.
  • On dull winter days the carbon dioxide emissions would be similar with or without a battery.
  • Using an ASHP – with or without a battery – drastically reduces carbon dioxide emissions compared to using a gas boiler.

Summary.

As I have commented before, the battery is primarily a financial investment.

In summer:

  • The battery it allows me to fully utilise the solar PV, taking the house essentially off-grid for around 6 months.
  • This saves me hundreds of pounds a year.

In winter:

  • The battery it allows me to fully utilise the small amount of solar PV available, and to time-shift the use of off-peak electricity.
  • This also saves me hundreds of pounds a year.

The apparent savings in carbon dioxide emissions associated with using a battery are illusory and in fact the battery is really an additional electrical item using power and causing further emissions.

The solar PV provides low-carbon electricity, but without a battery, any mismatch between production and our domestic use of electricity is expensive.

  • Overproduction of electricity is exported to the grid and I get 3p/kWh.
  • Underproduction of electricity requires me to import from the grid and I must pay 16.3p/kWh.

So without a battery, the low carbon dioxide electricity is still used and still helps the planet, displacing generation from gas-fired power stations. But I don’t get much benefit for it!

6 Responses to “The Role of a Battery in Meeting Winter Electricity Demand”

  1. Ashley Says:

    There is a carbon benefit to time shifting your energy use because electricity generated during low demand is more likely to be renewable and will help balance the load on the grid which is good for wind and nuclear generation.

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Ashley

      Hi. Indeed. I didn’t mention that in the article because it was already too long. But I did write about it a year or so ago.

      I downloaded the carbon intensity from carbonintensity.org which has data every 30 minutes for the last 3 years. I then analysed the data by time of day to how how much greener off-peak electricity would have been over that period.

      Basically it’s about 10 to 15% greener – a smaller saving than I had hoped for. You can the graphs at the link below

      Best wishes

      M

  2. Mr Gilfach Says:

    Excellent and really useful. I’m left asking if the battery provides a reasonable return on investment? You save hundreds of pounds a year but what was the cost of the battery and how long will it take to pay for itself? Will it okay for itself before its end of life?
    Many thanks

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      The Powerwall is an excellent investment.

      * In summer it allows to utilise nearly all the solar PV we generate, so we are practically off-grid for ~ 6 months
      * In winter it allows us to time shift to use substantially off-peak electricity.

      I covered the way it fits in to my household in this article from a month ago.

      https://protonsforbreakfast.wordpress.com/2021/10/26/heat-pump-operation-what-it-costs-and-what-it-costs-me/

      In my situation it saves almost £1000/year which will more-or-less pay for itself over a 10 year lifetime – but in part that depends on what electricity prices do.

      Anyway, I hope this helps you to figure out what to do.

      Best wishes

      M

  3. Roger Bradley Says:

    Comprehensive analysis and very useful to people trying to understand how battery storage and local generation are complementary technologies.
    Do you have any objection to my signposting this useful blog to my students on T313 renewable energy module at the Open University?
    Roger

    • protonsforbreakfast Says:

      Roger,

      I am glad you found it useful! Also feel free to ask any detailed questions about things I may not have thought of.

      M

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