Energy storage could satisfy demands of UK government rhetoric

Although Britain’s government has cut support for renewable energy severely in the past few months, controversially claiming a need to balance the transition away from fossil fuels against the cost to consumers, energy storage might face less of a challenge at the top level, according to speakers at a conference in London.

Speakers and members of the audience at a Renewable Energy Association (REA) event held yesterday said that with a properly designed marketplace and continuing cost reductions, feed-in tariffs or similar support schemes would not be necessary to enable energy storage technologies to succeed.

Many of the applications of energy storage, such as providing grid services and managing peak demand, could result in significant cost savings across the electricity network. According to some including a former advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), this could be an antidote to tough government rhetoric which saw FiTs for solar energy slashed by around 65% in a policy review at the end of the year.

DECC is currently in the middle of a consultation on policy regarding innovations in the energy sector, with a small team working on the technologies and regulatory issues around energy storage. Simon Virley, partner at a branch of one of the so-called Big Four consultancies, KPMG, suggested that the industry has just two weeks to get suggestions in to the consultation and “urged them” to do so. Results of that consultation, the Innovation Plan, will be published in spring.

“In these cash-strapped times, I think it’s important to say to ministers, to say to politicians, this isn’t about money, this is about now removing regulatory barriers, it’s about allowing private sector to develop propositions to consumers and households that make sense in commercial terms. DECC does not have all the answers - I cannot stress that enough.”

Appetite for energy storage at government level

The panel’s chair, REA CEO Nina Skorupska, asked later if there was an appetite for storage at government level, to which Virley replied that in his opinion “lower bills mean they have to take it seriously”. Solar Power Portal's sister site Energy Storage News has also heard that at grid and regulatory level there is an appetite to enable flexibility in the network, with energy storage a key component.

However, despite strong rhetoric at the recent COP21 talks, the Conservative-led government has made decisions on energy policy that include a plan to build new nuclear generation facilities thought to be twice as expensive as others and a seeming obsession with the economic benefits of fracking for shale.

Angus McNeil of the Scottish National Party, who also chairs the energy and climate change committee, an independent working group holding the government to account said jokingly in an address from the stage that the short-term approach of the government was like “a farmer who in winter thinks it’s a waste of money to invest in seeds”.

Regulatory barriers in the UK facing storage which Energy Storage News and others have reported include a lack of satisfactory definition of the technology, which although can be generator and load as well as potentially being part of transmission and distribution infrastructure is only recognised by network operators as a generator.

The UK is also preparing its first frequency regulation tender through its network operator, National Grid, offering 200MW of capacity. The panel discussion participants also included Rob Sauven of Renewable Energy Systems, which has developed around 70MW of frequency regulation projects in the US.

Speaking on yesterday's event, specialist renewables sector recruiter David Hunt of Hyperion Executive Search said it had been a "packed and fascinating day".

"...clearly everyone can see the massive opportunity for energy storage at all scales.The barriers being mostly regulatory rather than technological would seem easy to overcome, but governments and regulatory bodies are notoriously slow to change. That's a concern when industry move at breakneck pace," Hunt said.