Date: June 15, 2018
Author: Zohreh Mohammadi

“Blue sky thinking”: Grid connected storage is good for the National Grid

As the demand for green, low carbon energy increases, the debate over what type of energy we use intensifies. The UK government, along with the rest of the EU, has pledged to certain renewable energy targets in the near future, which means that the National Grid needs to review what type of energy it draws upon – especially during peak times.

Current systems: Gas peaker plants vs BESS

In the UK, the Grid is struggling to cope with ever fluctuating peaks in power demand (highlighted in the SNAPS review). Historically, peak hours would occur in the evenings after work, but with technology becoming more prevalent in everyday life,  peak hours are becoming more hard to predict. For this reason, the Grid is looking at new ways to manage peak demand.

As it stands, there are only a few cases where BESS (Battery Energy Storage Systems) are able to compete with gas peaker plants in terms of cost and output. Recent studies have shown that storage solution costs will need to take a rapid decline before they become truly competitive to gas peakers – that being said, the cost of grid connected storage has declined in a way that has surprised the market. It is quite likely, and reasonable, to think that within the next 5 years, batteries will be out competing peakers routinely, and within 10 years it won’t be a contest. Peaker plants themselves aren’t exactly cheap to run. They are usually expensive to build, and as the name suggests, they are only used during peak times. This could be anything from a few hours a day to a few hours a year, depending on conditions, and they are fairly unsuited to scenarios where there are fluctuations.

Batteries will be displacing peakers handily in the next decade as they are the most viable alternative. BESS provide more flexibility than peaker plants as they can react to demand on a sub-second basis – far quicker than other systems. The advantage of batteries is that they can be charged during non-peak hours and be ready to add extra capacity when peak power is needed. This means that they can balance all different types of renewable energy – a big plus for the UK as energy such as wind and solar can be inconsistent. With batteries, there is certainty that there will always be some sort of power available in case of a surge. The UK is committed to reaching a target of 15% of energy coming from renewables – if the UK is to continue to rely on renewables, then the Grid needs a system that can handle load and demand. That system could well be BESS, rather than peaker plants.

Can grid connected storage be the future?

The Grid has already shown commitment to energy storage. Aside from the commitment to 15% renewable energy in 2020, there was also an estimate by the National Infrastructure Commission that 150000MW of energy storage would be deployed in the UK by 2030. There is already one grid storage solution operating on the National Grid – the Smart Network Storage (SNS) at Leighton Buzzard. The SNS proved to be effective, as it was able to provide power to 6000 homes during peak times. There is clear evidence then, that with more scale and investment than grid scale storage could be an answer to the question of cheap, low-carbon energy solutions.

As mentioned above, the potential upside for energy/battery storage systems would be incredibly valuable for the National Grid, most notably for the high degree of flexibility they give. In the case of a power surge, they are able to provide energy to the Grid in under 1 second. The versatile nature of grid connected storage systems makes it attractive not only to the National Grid, but also for consumers. From the Grid’s point of view, investing in storage solutions will help them get ahead of the curve in terms of innovation, and more efficient energy. It will allow the Grid to respond to the ever increasing demand for renewable energy solutions, as well as taking steps towards a cleaner future.

For consumers, more efficient energy means (in theory) cheaper prices.  Earlier this year, the National Grid pledged in the SNAPS review to make contract procurement more transparent and easier, which means that we can expect an influx of innovative, clean energy technologies – especially battery solutions. It was estimated that implementing grid scale energy storage could save Britain up to £3.5 billion per annum.

Grid connected storage has the chance to be a revolutionary technology for the National Grid. With the demand for renewables on the rise, and lack of current solutions to satisfy that, the Grid will need to turn to battery storage. There is evidence and research behind the storage movement, to show that implementing these storage solutions can provide cheaper, cleaner energy to the UK National Grid.

Twitter