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With record-breaking wind energy production, now is the time to add long duration energy storage

17/5/2023

4 min read

Photo of Richard Butland, CEO, Highview Power, standing next to model of buildings lit up in red and blue Photo: R Butland
Richard Butland, CEO, Highview Power

Photo: R Butland

The UK needs to add a significant long duration energy storage capability to its electricity system to maximise the use of wind power and reduce reliance on gas and coal-fired power. Richard Butland, CEO of Highview Power, writes.

If the UK’s wind assets were better managed with long duration energy storage (LDES), there would be no need for coal, the most polluting fuel on the planet, as a back-up energy source.

 

Wind power is not only effective, it can also be plentiful. In recent months, the UK set multiple records in wind power production, peaking on 10 January this year when UK wind turbines delivered 21.6 GW of electricity, more than half of the country’s power. As wind energy production rises, new records will undoubtedly continue to be broken.

 

But instead of maximising the effectiveness of the UK’s massive wind power resource, the country continues to be dependent on coal. In February, two coal-fired power plants were placed on standby in case additional energy sources were needed while temperatures fell. One of the power plants on Ratcliffe-on-Soar was even scheduled to shut down but will now remain open until 2024.

 

As our targets become greater and timelines shorter the moment has come for us to focus the spotlight on a different kind of energy diversification, one that leverages all the UK’s renewable energy sources today with an eye toward the country’s energy security tomorrow: long duration energy storage.

 

Wasted wind energy
Unfortunately, cold weather and wind do not go hand in hand, as we discovered over Christmas and the New Year when temperatures dropped and wind-powered electricity was minimal. This forced the UK to depend on expensive foreign gas imports or rely on energy derived from fossil fuels.

 

But is this the only alternative?

 

Recent analysis by Highview Power found that wind could have powered an additional 1.2 million homes over the winter except for the lack of LDES. As a result, much of our wind energy was wasted and the UK had to import more than £60bn worth of gas to make up for the unused wind energy.

 

And the problem worsens every year. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the UK imported £19.6bn worth of gas in 2021, a 312% increase on the £4.8bn it spent the prior year.

 

This is not lost on most Britons. Energy is now a major issue for all UK households as a YouGov survey revealed last summer. Some 43% of adults polled think that Britain imports too much gas. A quarter of adults believe the government is ‘most responsible’, so it’s no surprise that 81% want to see more investment in renewable energy storage solutions.

 

With a commitment to 50 GW of offshore wind generation by 2030 while upgrading the grid to become a more efficient and resilient national power network, there’s no question that the UK is a leader in prioritising renewable energy initiatives.

 

But we have not given LDES the same attention and this undermines the effectiveness of our renewable resources, slows the energy transition and furthers our dependence on foreign gas – which does little to reduce high energy bills for homeowners. Wind waste forecasts further emphasise the critical need for LDES and show that, by 2035, the UK will be curtailing an average of 48 TWh/y, some 12 times more than today and costing the taxpayer more than £2.5bn/y.  

 

Recent analysis by Highview Power found that wind could have powered an additional 1.2 million homes over the winter except for the lack of LDES.

 

A role for LDES
Highview Power’s planned programme of ‘renewable energy power stations’ would deliver 45 GWh of storage to the UK and reduce the country’s reliance on gas by 50 TWh/y, saving 10mn tCO2e, the equivalent gas demand of over four million houses. If storage was deployed across the entire UK grid by 2035, it would cut the cost of electricity on the system by over £1bn.

 

Never has this been more needed. The demands of net zero mean that fossil fuels are being phased out while everything possible is becoming electrified. This increased demand for electricity leads to instability when we should be able to rely on low-carbon flexible generation.

 

Another factor is the need to ‘green the grid’. Renewable integration brings with it structural challenges that storage technology overcomes, not only with storage, but stability too. While it’s a challenge for renewable forms of generation such as wind and solar to provide stability services such as inertia, voltage control and frequency management to the grid, our LDES solution provides these services alongside its traditional function as a clean electricity power plant.

 

LDES is the next phase in energy diversification and our storage solution specifically moves the dial towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more secure energy future. Not only can we help to eliminate millions of tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere but, by using LDES, we play a significant role in ending our reliance on expensive, polluting imported gas.
 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author only and are not necessarily given or endorsed by or on behalf of the Energy Institute.