‘The development of the energy storage sector is on the cusp of commercial reality.’
Having seen a succession of energy generation projects affected by cuts to subsidies, the growing energy storage market and the wide range of energy storage revenue streams available provides a much needed fillip to the renewables sector. The sector was seriously wounded by the 2015 Government policy shift that unapologetically threw financial support behind fossil fuels and nuclear energy, to the exclusion of secure deployment of renewable energy.
In October 2015, Imperial College published research on behalf of the Committee on Climate Change on how to decarbonise the UK power system. The snappily titled ‘Value of Flexibility in a Decarbonised Grid and System Externalities of Low-Carbon Generation Technologies’ report concluded that: ‘Provided that sufficient flexibility and reserve/response is available, the system can cope at times of stress (e.g. lots of wind, very low wind over several days, unexpected nuclear outages, low fuel prices, high demand) and achieve the carbon target. It is feasible to manage a future GB power system that is deeply decarbonised with high levels of intermittent renewables (i.e. up to around 50 GW of wind or solar).’
So, a mixed portfolio of non-carbon generation, together with deployment in energy storage technologies and demand-side response, is the way forward. Despite this advice, the Government has since committed to very significant investment around carbon generating energy, including phasing out coal powered generation in favour of gas powered, and promoting shale gas exploitation as a route to UK energy security, growth and jobs, all decisions founded on the fact that non carbon energy cannot provide consistent supply. It’s ironic that the first shipment of US shale gas delivered to the UK is this week stuck in the Firth of Forth, unable to dock because of strong winds.
Whilst national energy policy appears to fossil fuels and nuclear, the energy market is responding with an alternative. As new opportunities present themselves, the surge in grid connection applications received by Distributed Network Operators (DNOs) for energy storage projects is unsurprising.
On 26th August, National Grid announced the winners of its auction to provide 200 megawatts of near-instantaneous power to help balance the network. The winners were almost all battery projects with one of the successful bids being the Pen y Cymoedd onshore wind farm in Wales. When this wind farm is completed in 2017, it will also have a battery onsite able to provide 22MW of power when the National Grid needs it.
Meanwhile, UK-based Camborne Energy Storage has installed a grid scale solar power storage facility in Somerset using US-based Tesla’s revolutionary battery technology. The first of its kind in Europe, the installation, which comprises five 100 kWh Tesla powerpacks, will store energy produced from a nearby solar farm in Somerset. Providing an ancillary service to the National Grid, the installation has the capacity to provide power for over 500 homes.
Developments such as this show that new and low carbon flexible technologies can provide services traditionally provided by large, fossil fuel powered conventional plants. Storage enables integration of more renewable energy, decarbonising the grid in line with the UK’s legally binding carbon targets.
The recent RegenSW report on Energy Storage acknowledges that whilst we are not there yet, “with some greater realignment between energy storage technologies, regulatory framework, revenues and costs, the global and UK energy storage market is poised to achieve substantial market growth. If that happens, energy storage could make a substantial contribution to the overall UK energy system, adding much needed flexibility and allowing the further expansion of low carbon technologies to achieve our decarbonisation targets”.
As well as the provision of storage within new renewables schemes, work is progressing on retrofitting energy storage systems onto existing solar farms, and planning applications have been submitted for a number of schemes of this type. Lack of regulatory clarity remains a barrier, however. In its latest policy document The Solar Trade Association observes that, for this barrier to be lifted, the Government needs to make energy storage a clear strategic priority, and clear up policy around storage’s position within existing regulation.
Given the legally binding targets on the UK to make the transition to a largely decarbonised electricity system, and the costs of storage dropping rapidly as technology and experience develop, the future of the energy storage sector looks promising. Taken together, those are good reasons for politicians to agree to get on with removing fundamental regulatory and market barriers to the storage market.