Solar power is fantastic, but is not the silver bullet that some people seem to imply it is. I’ve heard the following sentiment more times than I should.

“We have got an energy crisis. The UK desperately needs generation capacity. Solar can be built quickest and it’s so popular, not like wind. All we need is storage. Oh, and did you know, PV doesn’t need sunlight – just daylight to generate electricity…..”

Of course solar needs storage, but its case is so much stronger with wind.

You may well be irritated by the government's star-struck gaze on offshore wind and the disproportionate spend that goes in its direction at the expense of solar. You may feel that onshore wind is the enemy, given it trousered so much of the Pot 2 Contract for Difference (CfD) spend, but that is a different question altogether.

I’ve been thinking a lot about storage in the last few days. With one of my other hats on, I’ve just drafted a response to DECC’s Green Hydrogen Standard: call for evidence. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted another go! So I put my Renewable Energy Association (REA) hat on and drafted a joint response from the REA’s UK Storage and UK Solar groups (find it here and feel free to plagiarise it; if you have comments on it, REA member or not, then let me know).

This is important for solar. Generation from PV, which might otherwise be constrained as there isn't sufficient demand on the electricity grid, could be absorbed by hydrogen production. And the hydrogen could be added to the gas distribution network.

I’m aware that National Grid only allows 0.1% of H2 on the network, although up to 10% can be blended on the German gas network. I can envisage National Grid being keen too. They are firm advocates of biomethane injection, and it’s not hard to see why.  Its existing infrastructure has a role beyond fossil fuels in carrying renewably generated gas. So I am sure they would be prepared to up the spec for H2 – it’s just that no one has asked them yet. I speak with some experience here, as my other hat is Green Gas Certification.

Imagine a future where the electricity system is balanced by a number of storage technologies, one of which is H2 injection. H2 injection is effectively storage on a colossal, almost limitless scale. It enables gas to be kept in short term storage, or not even taken out of the gas fields in the first place.

So in winter when the wind is blowing a hooley in the weekend early hours and around midday on cloudless days, the UK could be pumping renewably-generated gas into the network. A perfect match.

PV does not generate much in the winter and I should know. I am a compulsive presser of the button on my Sunnyboy monitor. It’s sad how many times a day the urge takes me. Days fall into three basic forms; beautiful clear days give a perfect rounded hill.  My best last year can be seen here!  (My system is slightly east facing, so it’s a little more humpbacked whale than perfect Gaussian curve.) At the other extreme, a winter cloudy day’s output can look like the slime trail left by a slug after it has passed over my vegetable seed bed. In between we have a stegosaurus.  

With day after day of sluggish output during winter, wind can help. Not always, admittedly. You can have the equivalent scenario with wind, when high pressure anticyclones last days on end, albeit not often. For the most part, wind is solar power’s perfect partner.

So let’s hear a call for integration and storage, from both the wind and the solar industry. Ideally, in harmony. Let’s encourage innovation, and think ahead see solutions not obstacles to meeting our energy needs. One place to start would be in response to DECC’s green hydrogen call.