Electricity storage could offer a secure, affordable and cleaner future for Britain’s electricity grid if regulators, Government and industry took steps to break down the barriers that are hindering its potential, according to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).
In its report published on 27 October, “Electricity Storage: Realising the Potential”, the ICE says it is time electricity storage – an existing technology – is recognised as a viable long term means of transitioning the country towards a secure and affordable, low-carbon economy. It calls on industry and Government to work with regulators and “breathe life” into the stunted industry.
Storage shortfall in the grid
According to Government estimates, electric-intensive technologies of the future such as electric cars and heated homes will increase Britain’s electricity demand six-fold by 2050. Despite recent advances in technology, actual deployment of electricity storage in the energy system is less than 3GW. No significant grid-connected storage has been commissioned for over thirty years.
The ICE report says a mix of electricity storage technologies will be needed to ensure the efficient distribution and generation of electricity, and meet the projected surge in demand for electricity.
It findings appear to show that industry can apply the storage process to Britain’s existing power networks to help bolster energy security generated from renewable sources – without the need for major subsidies. But Government would need to address the regulation holding back the construction and operation of electricity storage within the energy market.
Adapting to a broader energy mix
One of the report authors, Dr Philipp Grünewald, a Research Fellow at Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford commented: “If Britain is to transition to a more secure, affordable and low carbon ‘electric economy’ it must broaden its energy mix. This will require a fundamental change to our infrastructure requirements, and electricity storage could play an important role.
“Similar in principle to how a camel stores excess energy generated from the food it eats as fat in its hump, an electricity storage unit allows distributors and renewable generators to convert surplus electricity into chemical or kinetic energy, save it, then convert back into electricity to distribute at times when overall demand is higher.
Storage potential unrecognised so far
“Markets and regulation do not currently recognise the potential of electricity storage and need to adapt if Britain is to take full advantage of the technologies on offer.” We have built a national electricity grid to deliver electricity from where it is generated to where it is needed, says Grünewald. Electricity storage can help in much the same way by matching electricity supply from when it is generated to when it is needed. “With more and cheaper renewables, storage will become a crucial part of efficient future energy systems.”
He continued: “We must all work together to breathe life into a sector with huge potential, not only in response to the energy ‘trilemma’ – the challenge of producing secure, affordable and clean energy – but also in positioning the country as a leading technology innovator.
“Ahead of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris next month, leaders from across the world are now looking to engineers for practical ways to respond to climate change. It is time to realise the potential of electricity storage as a better way of operating the electricity system, and recognise it as a driver of skilled jobs and innovation.”
Key recommendations in the ICE report include:
1. Let electricity storage units help balance the transmission system. Encourage ‘bulk’ electricity storage units (>50MW) as an efficient means of quickly providing power when it is needed and absorbing it when it isn’t, through exempting storage from balancing charges.
2. Stop outdated regulation from choking the electricity storage industry. At present network operators are barred from operating electricity storage units, restricting their ability to manage increasingly complex systems.
3. Enable storage for renewables to be competitive by using market-based support mechanisms. Renewables operators are currently paid a flat rate for any electricity they export, providing little incentive to do so at times of peak demand.