For three days in late November, the best and brightest academics, industry figures and policy makers in the field gathered for the second annual UK Energy Storage conference. The bulk of attendees were from British institutions, but they mingled with delegates from Africa, Asia and the Americas in one of the most internationally significant energy storage events of the year.
The conference was organised by the staff at the Energy Storage Research Network and hosted by the University of Birmingham. Delegates arrived at the stately redbrick surrounds of the Aston Webb building, overseen by a startlingly tall clock tower (dubiously claimed by locals to have served as the inspiration for the tower of Orthanc in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings).
Professor Nigel Brandon opened proceedings and led into some ‘state of the nation’ overviews about the increasing role energy storage is playing in our civilisation’s energy system. Professor George Crabtree spoke in his capacity as Director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR) in the USA. His fascinating talk on JCESR’s progress and plans led to a lot of hallway chatter about the differences between American and British research, and provoked some two-way ideas about how our laboratories can inspire each other across the Atlantic.
Talks ran continuously across two venues, covering lithium, sodium and flow batteries, thermomechanical storage, and big-picture policy questions. Between them, the speakers covered storage at every order of magnitude, from nanomaterials to grid integration, and audience members weren’t afraid to raise tough questions after each session.Overall, the response from delegates was positive, both at the time and on social media. The conference saw good feedback on Twitter, such as Imperial College’s Ian Campbell singling out Glasgow’s Dr Serena Corr for particular praise, tweeting,
Thursday’s sessions culminated in an evening event where the science posters were subjected to the wisdom of the crowd. Drinks in hand, the delegates trooped up to the Aston Webb rotunda to examine and vote for the posters on display, while prizes were also awarded by judges Greg Offer and Vladimir Yufit. The three prizes were later presented to lead authors Robert Gruar, for “Development of novel high energy density sodium layered oxide cathode materials”; Helena Navarro Rivero, for “Cold thermal energy storage from water to cryogenic fluids”; and Julia Weaving, for “Variability in nail penetrative abuse testing”.
In the end, what was the point of the conference and why should anybody come next year? Well, in a field moving as fast as energy storage, the UKES event gave everyone participating a chance to catch their breath and gauge the lie of the land. Friendships were formed and connections made across disciplines and nationalities. It’s hard to point to immediate outcomes, but with luck, such a fertile meeting of ideas will pay off in research breakthroughs in months and years ahead.
With more delegates and more speakers, the 2015 conference built on 2014’s UKES event in Warwick. The conference will return in 2016, and looks to be well on the way to becoming an institution in the UK energy storage calendar. See you next year, hopefully!