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Boosting energy storage

By 10th July 2016 Sustainability No Comments

People regularly claim that the rectangular ‘pads’ that are a familiar feature of shale gas extraction are a blight on the landscape, but as this photograph shows, renewables and energy storage aren’t necessarily any better. So how do we get past those landscape objections and build more utility-scale storage?

In October 2014, Nina Skorupska, chief executive of the Renewable Energy Association (REA) said “the next big thing in renewables is not renewable – it’s storage.”

Then, in January this year, the REA launched a report compiled by KPMG. Commenting on the findings, Skorupska said energy storage will bring many benefits “from optimising the frequency of power supplies (the constant 49.5-50.5Hz our power network must run at) […] to balancing variable supply and demand and therefore enabling more renewables to run on the system.”

One of the problems is where to put all this storage infrastructure. If energy generation is anything to go by, whether that’s wind, large scale solar, biogas, biomass, waste-to-energy or shale gas, we can expect communities to reject utility-scale electricity battery storage, leading to developments facing major hurdles through the planning process.

So how do we overcome that before it’s an issue?

Well, firstly, it would make sense to build utility-scale electricity storage on existing coal, gas and nuclear power stations – where there is likely to be much less public opposition.

But there’s also a lot to be said for partnering with industry too; deals to co-locate electricity storage facilities on chemical plants and refineries, manufacturing sites, logistics centres, engineering factories, food processing sites (and many more besides) could enable us to rapidly build-out significant storage capacity nationally, but in smaller and potentially more flexible lots.

There’s even an investment case to be made for businesses to adopt energy storage for their own benefit: the ability to store power overnight, when it’s cheaper, for use the following day could help reduce energy costs.

Even with large scale electricity storage in industrial settings, there will probably still be a requirement to build storage in or close to residential communities (when you consider how much storage will be needed – in January this year, the consultancy Eunomia predicted the UK could see 1.6 Gigawatts (GW) of storage by 2020, up from just 24 MW currently).

Engaging early and keeping residents informed will be crucial, and developers of utility-scale electricity storage should think carefully about signing-up to an industry-standard community benefit scheme – such as that favoured by the onshore wind industry that sees communities hosting wind farms over 5 Megawatts (MW) paid £5,000 per MW for each year of operation.

It’s important that this potential public perception barrier is acknowledged and tackled – as Skorupska says, “storage can be the vital ingredient to get us to the low carbon power system we desperately need.”

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