Our customers have been asking a lot recently about the benefits of energy storage and flexible generation. So we thought we would explore this topic with the help of some experts in the field, GridBeyond.
Meeting the growing need for flexible energy resources with battery storage
Driven by the need to decarbonise, our energy mix is becoming increasingly dominated by intermittent renewable technologies. Last year saw a number of records broken across the year as conditions aligned to deliver new firsts in wind generation and total zero carbon generation. For example, in November 2022, for the first time ever wind generation provided a peak amount of power greater than 20GW, a notable threshold for those who work in the industry and more than twice the peak capacity of the UK nuclear fleet. Turning to this year, on 10 January, the UK generated record wind-powered electricity again, with provisional data showing a “max wind generation record” exceeding 21.6GW. For scale, UK peak demand at lunchtime on the same day was approximately 35GW.
Capping our most productive days
With so much wind capacity available and more in the pipeline, on the windiest days National Grid ESO is forced to deliberately cap the amount of power coming from intermittent sources, with the owners being paid to turn them off. If too many generators have a high peak power output at the same time, the combined power could overload the system. Known as ‘curtailment’, it is a persistent problem for renewable energy generators, and a costly one for the consumer and the planet. In 2022, a year characterised by extraordinary rises in energy prices, the UK spent £215m on turning windfarms off, and then another £717m turning on gas power plants to replace the lost wind power on days when the wind was not blowing. The result was an extra 1.5 million tonnes of carbon emissions.
Planning for bigger peaks in the future
This is incredibly frustrating given that many people are currently living in fuel poverty in the UK and that the climate crisis must be addressed urgently. Every pound spent on curtailing renewables is a pound wasted, but the problem isn’t going away any time soon. As sectors such as heat and transport move away from fossil fuels and towards electrification, there will be higher electricity demand peaks, while electricity generation will become even more variable as levels of wind and solar generation increase. National Grid ESO’s Future Energy Scenarios suggest that we will have 15TWh of curtailment by 2030 in all Net Zero aligned scenarios.
How can we stop wasting valuable renewable resources?
One of the answers to this question is to increase demand and either use or store this excess electricity during times of peak renewables generation. This can be done by retrofitting or co-locating battery storage systems with renewables projects. Batteries can soak up cheap renewable energy when it’s abundant, and discharge it when congestion has eased.
National Grid estimates that by 2050, we will have 35GW of battery storage across the whole of the UK (National Grid’s Future Energy Scenarios). Regen’s analysis indicates that we need around 20GW of storage as part of a 2035 net zero power system. Battery storage is a rapidly growing sector – RenewableUK reported last year that the battery storage pipeline had doubled in 12 months. And it’s not just utility scale projects that are coming online, forward thinking business owners are getting in on the act too, a large proportion of which are at the medium commercial and industrial scale, not just the large corporations or multi-national utility companies.