As we saw in our first blog post, coal still plays a vital role in various UK industries such as steel and cement manufacture, as well as helping mitigate against intermittency of power supply on the National Grid. The six active UK coal fired power stations (Aberthaw B; Cottam; West Burton; Drax; Ratcliffe-on-Soar and Uskmouth) accounted for over a quarter of the total electricity produced during the “Beast from the East” cold snap in the week beginning Monday 26 February 2018. (Please footnote 1 below)
There are a number of emerging energy storage technologies which seem set to play a significant role in the electricity supply grid in the future as we, as a nation, look to de-carbonise the grid. These developing energy storage technologies include solid state batteries, flow batteries, flywheels, compressed air energy storage, thermal and pumped hydro-power. For more information on these technology types, as well as the other technologies used in the UK please see the link in footnote 2 below.
Some storage projects have a large amount of reserve energy to deal with a more sustained or sudden loss of import to the Grid (such as a power system failure). Other schemes can handle short-term, sudden surges in electricity demand. Some deal with very small increases and decreases in system frequency (which is affected by supply / demand balance) and have very quick reaction times (in some cases less than one second). However, the primary function remains the same: to balance supply with demand.
Energy storage is becoming a more important part of the UK’s low-carbon infrastructure, with over 3.3GW of storage capacity currently in operation in the UK alone, with schemes ranging from: small enough to be used in individual homes and offices, known as “behind-the-meter” storage, to the large scale Dinorwig pumped-storage hydroelectric power station in Wales. Dinorwig could power all the homes in Wales, ie 1.3million households (Footnote 3), for five and a half hours alone. (Footnote 4)
The amount of energy storage in the UK is expected to increase in the coming months and years. A recent report by RenewableUK (Footnote 5) predicts a significant increase in storage capacity. It estimates that 5.5GW of extra capacity is already in the planning system. The UK Government published a consultation in January this year  on policy proposals which would clarify the position of energy storage within the UK planning framework. Please see the link in footnote 6 below.
A shift towards the de-centralisation of the National Grid, in which energy distribution would be managed in smaller, more localised, grids rather than the large-scale network operator system currently in place, could see storage capacity in certain areas of the UK increase. It seems storage will play a key role the smart, flexible and decarbonised future energy system.
A number of innovative schemes, which aim to utilise energy storage technology in the shift towards a low-carbon economy, are already in use. For example Northern Powergrid is pioneering an electric vehicle scheme which tracks how its employees interact with electric vehicles, and how electric vehicle owners and supporting infrastructure may operate in the future.
The National Grid is changing – both in generation and use. Consequently it is having to move from a centralised system to a more localised one. This should result in better value for the consumer, with the ability to access cheaper electricity, more accurate cost projections and lower national and local infrastructure costs.
The uses of energy storage will likely extend further than the Grid. Smart Metering will allow consumers to choose when they access power in their homes, allowing them to run appliances at night only, or perhaps use energy stored in personal solar panels and “behind-the-meter” storage systems.
As renewable energy generation increases, energy storage will help make a cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable grid.
Ellen Morton, March 2019
About the author: Ellen is a graduate planner with The Banks Group. Ellen joined The Banks Group in summer 2018.
1) Please see: Written Parliamentary Question & Answer, 2 March 2018