Ten times more energy storage needed for Britain to reach net zero, report finds

Ten times more energy storage needed for Britain to reach net zero, report finds
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ cubrazol

Britain’s energy storage capacity will need to grow to around 30GW or more over the next 20-30 years, from 3GW today, to meet the net zero carbon targets required to address the climate emergency, according to analysis by Imperial College for Drax Electric Insights.

Imperial’s analysis shows that, for the current GB electricity mix with a quarter of power coming from variable renewables, every unit of intermittent renewables added to the system requires an additional 0.2 units of energy storage capacity to smooth out intermittency and keep the grid stable.

As the share of wind and solar power rises towards 80% of electricity supplied, every extra unit of intermittent renewables will require 1 unit of energy storage.

Dr Iain Staffell of Imperial College London and lead author of the quarterly Electric Insights reports said: “Energy storage is one of the most important issues in the energy industry – it has the potential to dictate the pace, scale and cost of the energy transition.

“Along with other technologies, such as interconnection and flexible generation, energy storage helps integrate more renewables onto the system, which makes it easier to manage the grid and enables greater decarbonisation at lowest cost.”

Dr Oliver Schmidt, co-author of the report and senior consultant at cleantech advisory Apricum, said: “This summer’s blackout in Britain highlights the value of having a range of fast-acting technologies and that demand will only grow as older thermal power plants retire and are replaced by intermittent renewables.

“We’ll also need a rapid expansion of other forms of flexibility, such as demand-side response, interconnectors and fast-acting flexible power stations as well as from pumped hydro storage, which is currently the biggest storage technology, and batteries where costs are falling.”

Andy Koss, CEO Generation, Drax, said: “Pumped hydro storage plays a vital role in the UK’s energy system today – able to reach full load in as little as 30 seconds, it is proven to be able to react quickly to resolve intermittency issues associated with some renewable technologies.

“It’s clear from this Electric Insights report that more energy storage systems are vital to ensure the country has the power it needs in the decades ahead as wind and solar become the biggest sources of electricity. As the leading flexible power generator on Great Britain’s national grid, Drax has opportunities in storage and other technologies to enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.”

The Imperial College study found that variable renewables are providing an increasing share of energy supply, with wind farms alone providing more than half of Britain’s electricity for the first time ever in Q3 2019. This is creating unprecedented challenges in balancing the power system.

Keeping the UK’s power system stable made up a tenth of the total cost of generating electricity and the cost of balancing the power system hit a record high of £3.80/MWh in Q3.