Comment & Analysis

Energy storage is a game changer

Anthony Price

Government must develop supportive market for energy storage

Energy storage could be a game changer for the energy industry but we need to make sure its potential is delivered. In the past two years, more than £80 million of funding has been committed to support research and design in electricity storage programmes across the UK, including £30 million committed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop five academic centres across Britain. These programmes risk being wasted if the government doesn’t develop a supportive energy storage market: in the current economic context, this would be a waste of opportunity and of resources.

Earlier this year, the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced the winners of the ‘Energy Storage Technology Demonstration Competition’, 2014 also saw a number of specialised academic research centres opening across the UK, including the world’s first Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage research at Birmingham University. Despite these programmes coming on stream, the we are still behind many other countries in our deployment of modern electricity storage. A range of storage technologies are ready and are now operating around the world, but, what is missing here in the UK is a suitable long term market to support these storage solutions.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee, under the chairmanship of Lord Selborne, is conducting an inquiry into the resilience of electricity infrastructure which includes storage. In December 2014, the ESN presented evidence to the committee, which fully recognises storage as a key component for reinforcing the grid and its role for aiding a greater uptake of renewable generation, increasing spare capacity and improving flexibility.

The ESN’s members have identified a number of potential key actions to enhance the introduction of storage in Britain’s electricity infrastructure, as part of a consultation document. These have been grouped into four main proposals and it is our intention to identify industrial support for these proposals, to use in our discussions with DECC and the Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment. The proposals will also open up discussions with regulatory agencies Ofgem and the utility regulator. We are seeking views on these ideas as a first step.

Earlier this year, the ESN supported the Renewable Energy Association’s manifesto calling for policy changes after the election, recognising the important role storage can play in enabling variable generation on to the network, and both organisations believe the capacity market is not a suitable supporting mechanism.

Spare capacity margin is now at a seven-year low, with a network now reliant on combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) as a buffer. The use of CCGT only plasters over our energy problem as natural gas is vulnerable to fluctuations in market prices and doesn’t fully support the task of bringing down carbon emissions to meet binding EU targets. Electricity storage provides an alternate, stronger solution to meet peak demand and ensure flexibility of supply. Electricity storage technologies can be used to supplement peak capacity when required, typically for the winter peak, and improves the utilisation of plants on the system, not only by providing capacity, but also flexibility.

The government has backed wind power, it has backed solar, and it has backed demand side reduction. It says storage is one of the eight great technologies and is investing in university research but it has forgotten a fundamental part of the puzzle, supporting the market for the longer term. Such a market can deliver stable, affordable and secure low carbon energy supplies for the country and is therefore an opportunity not to be missed.

Join the discussion at the Electricity Storage Network Annual Meeting, 28th Januar 2015. Register here: http://www.electricitystorage.co.uk/network-meetings-calendar/

Anthony Price is director of the Electricity Storage Network

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