Greater consideration of energy storage technologies, including investment, is necessary for the UK to have the best chance of meeting its targets for renewable energy generation and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report published today by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The report, Energy Storage: The missing link in the UK’s energy commitments, is an assessment of the available energy storage technologies and how each could impact on the UK's ability to add renewable energy capacity.

The Institution argues that not only could energy storage ease the addition of intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar, effectively deployed storage could also limit the need for constraint payments to be made to wind farm and solar power plant operators for 'wrong time' generation in markets such as the UK.

The report assesses the various energy storage technologies and their appropriateness to the UK sector. It covers technologies including compressed air energy storage (CAES), pumped storage hydroelectric (PSHE), cryogenic energy storage (CES), hydrogen storage and flywheels as well as various electrical battery types. These include flow batteries for longer term applications, lithium-based, nickel-based and several other types.

In addition to advocating for the formulation of a roadmap for storage technology development, which IMechE argues should be done by the UK government in cooperation with the energy industry, the report highlights three key findings. 

  1. At pre-launch events for the report, as well as in the report itself, the Institution's head of energy and environment, Dr Tim Fox stressed the importance of looking at energy storage not only in electricity, but also for transport and heat. According to the Institution, electricity only makes up around 26% of UK energy demand.
  2. Secondly, IMechE argues that “government must recognise that energy storage cannot be incentivised by conventional market mechanisms” – according to the Institution, long-term environmental and energy security objectives will not be met unless mechanisms to deploy storage are put in place.
  3. Finally and perhaps the biggest barrier if mainstream press coverage of energy issues in the UK is to be believed, the report argues strongly that while rapidly rising energy costs are a matter of deep concern, the UK “must reject its obsession with 'cheapness' in the sector. The Institution concludes that whatever the outcome and whichever technologies are deployed, energy costs are likely to continue to rise.