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Inching forward on energy efficiency for UK homes and battery storage

The government has taken a couple of small steps in the last week to aid progress towards meeting its long-term net zero ambitions.

First, it to relax planning legislation to make it easier to develop large-scale battery systems to store electricity generated at solar and wind farms. Ministers are introducing legislation to remove barriers for storage projects above 50 MW in England and 350 MW in Wales.

The UK already has the largest offshore wind capacity in the world but, because the availability and speed of wind is not constant, energy is sometimes produced when it is not needed and then lost. Energy storage can take up the slack.

Removing barriers for storage projects could treble the number of batteries serving the electricity grid and help bring about storage cells that are five times bigger than those currently available, says the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Storage is already playing a key role in balancing the UK’s electricity system during the falls in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minster for Energy and Clean Growth Kwasi Kwarteng said: ‘The key to capturing the full value of renewables is in ensuring homes and businesses can still be powered by green energy even when the sun is not shining, or the wind has stopped blowing.’

The move was widely welcomed, particularly by the renewables industry. Trade association RenewableUK’s Director of Policy and Regulation Rebecca Williams said: ‘We’re glad that the government has listened to industry and will now allow local planning authorities to determine battery projects of 50 MW and above, rather than the Secretary of State, which can be a longer and more expensive process.’

‘We currently have over 580 [storage] projects, including battery storage, either operational, under construction or in development nationwide, with total capacity of over 17 GW. Five years ago, we had a total energy storage pipeline of just 14 projects with a capacity of under 2.7 GW, added Williams.

Meanwhile, new funding to the tune of £3bn for the greening of UK homes has been announced among wider measures to support the housing market by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in the Treasury’s A Plan for Jobs 2020. Heating buildings accounts for around a fifth of greenhouse gas emissions and, due to the age and design of many buildings, the UK’s housing stock is among the least energy efficient in Europe.

The government is to introduce a new £2bn Green Homes Grant, providing at least £2 for every £1 that homeowners and landlords spend to make their homes more energy efficient, up to £5,000 per household. For those on the lowest incomes, the scheme will fully fund energy efficiency measures of up to £10,000 per household. The scheme is aimed to upgrade over 600,000 homes across England. It could support over 100,000 green jobs and help strengthen the domestic energy efficiency supply chain, says the government.

Energy efficiency was identified as the biggest missed opportunity in energy policy in recent years in this year’s EI Energy Barometer report on the views of UK-based energy professionals.

Dr Rob Gross FEI, a council member of the EI and director of UK Energy Research Centre said: ‘The economic, environmental, and social co-benefits of this have never been clearer. Improved insulation reduces bills and makes buildings more comfortable. It helps meet climate change goals, given today’s homes represent a fifth of emissions, and the vast majority of them will still be around in 2050.’

But the announcement can only be a first step to making the improvements to energy efficiency required. Policy think tank IPPR warned that, whilst the £3bn move is welcome, around £7bn per year of public and private investment is required until 2030 to meet the pace and scale of action needed for both insulation and new low-carbon heating systems for UK homes. IPPR estimates that at least 12mn homes across England alone will need to be fitted with heat pumps and energy efficiency measures such as insulation, over the next 30 years.

News Item details

Journal title: Energy World

Countries: UK -

Organisation: HM Government

Subjects: Net zero - Batteries - Electricity storage - Energy efficiency -

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