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Recognising the role of storage

By 2020, renewable energy will make up 15% of the UK energy’s supply according to government targets.

Andrew Jones is Managing Director of Europe at S&C Electric Company

An extensive eco-system has grown to ensure optimisation in foundation and installation techniques as well as layout efficiency for offshore wind farms, but the energy optimisation is still missing.

Unlike a power plant, you cannot turn a wind turbine on or switch the sun on when there are peaks in energy demand. Therefore, for renewables to contribute so much to the energy supply and an effective grid to run, the energy needs to be managed, and more importantly stored. The technology exists but are we doing enough to encourage its adoption?

In the UK storage is recognised by OFGEM and the Electricity Storage Network as a viable solution and works well in the US, but the British government is not assigning the resources required to modernise the National Grid. Not only does energy storage benefit the consumer and ensure efficiency of renewable energy, and therefore winning public support of renewables, it leads to a decrease in overall energy production. But does it really work and how do we go about adopting it in the UK without more government support?

The US is already ahead of us in the storage game. For example, PNM Resources in New Mexico have deployed a 750-kW PureWave Storage Management System (SMS). The system is the nation’s first solar storage facility that is fully integrated into a utility’s power grid. The PNM Prosperity Energy Storage Project can produce 500 kilowatts of power and uses batteries to create firm and dispatchable energy derived from a renewable energy source.

Integrating large-scale solar energy projects into the grid can be challenging because output from these projects varies suddenly and dramatically when clouds block the sun. Similarly, wind turbines can be affected by sudden changes in the weather and it is true that most renewables can have sudden changes in output. S&C’s PureWave SMS provides two storage functions that are essential for renewables. It smoothes the output from the panel or turbine, mitigating potential variations brought on by resource intermittency, to ensure continued grid reliability and stability. The system also allows stored energy to be dispatched at times of peak demand, eliminating the need to use carbon-emitting generation for this purpose.

As a demonstration project, installations similar to the one at PNM are essential to evaluate how energy storage solutions can be applied to meet the nation’s energy goals. The UK is starting to use this kind of technology and Scottish and Southern Electric have a number of projects including those at Nairn and the Shetland Islands. Other pilot projects exist at UK Power Networks’ wind farm in Hemsby, Norfolk, and there are others planned, but we need to see more demonstration projects and more government backing.

Energy storage does not stop at making a more efficient grid. There are many benefits that the UK could make more of. Community Energy Storage (CES), a battery-based system that positions discrete amounts of utility-controlled storage at the grid’s edge, has been an innovation in the energy sector. CES provides far-reaching benefits, including reliable back-up power within communities, integration of renewable generation, improved power quality through reduced exposure to transients and repeated operations, better voltage control, and efficiency gains through power factor correction. Furthermore, CES provides asset relief through peak shaving, enabling utilities to defer capital expenditures for major substation and distribution system upgrades. Again, the US has pilot projects but the UK is only just starting installations.

Energy storage is critical to reducing our reliance on fossil-fuel-fired generation. It protects the stability of the grid, ensures a reliable energy supply and mitigates the need to rely on carbon-emitting generation for ancillary grid services.

With the dramatic increase in renewable investment in the UK in the last five years (a trend expected to continue), storage is on the front-burner of the technology discussion. For utilities, storage can be used to shift supply patterns more accurately and improve reliability. For renewable contractors, it enables predictability and new business opportunities in energy trading. We’re already seeing this happen with wind contractors in Northern England.

There has been relatively little investment and innovation in energy storage in the last decade, but this has changed dramatically in the last two to three years, with greater standardisation, lower costs and more scalability.

Over the next five years, we will see rapid private investment, but we need government support to ensure the UK has the optimum national grid and storage network to enable the country to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

Andrew Jones is Managing Director of Europe at S&C Electric Company

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