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Old Energy Order Draws to a Close as a battery storage revolution takes off

nuClear News No.94 April 2017 “…The old energy order is drawing to a close as a battery storage revolution takes off, according to the Telegraph. Over the last two years, battery costs have fallen 40%, with further falls to come as economies of scale take hold. Rapid growth in the market for battery storage, forecast by Goldman Sachs to increase by a thousand-fold from $258m (£210m) last year to $258bn in 2025, should in turn remove a number of the key economic constraints on renewable forms of energy. Wind and solar are intermittent forms of energy, and hitherto have therefore required complementary back-up generation to ensure there is enough power in the grid at all times to service demand. The great promise of storage is that it should lend renewables the same “always on” characteristics of more conventional forms of power, allowing electricity to be drawn when the wind is blowing, and given out again when it is not.

Paul Massara – a former chief executive of Npower who now runs his own battery storage business, North Star -says it seems plausible that at least half of all UK households will have installed battery storage facilities within 10 years. In such a world, energy supply ceases to be the linear business of delivering power from the generator to the consumer as and when it is required, and becomes much more about smart grids and data management. There will always be a need for National Grid and the District Network Operator Companies, but they may have to radically change their charging methods from a metered usage basis to a single, all-you-can eat rental charge, to cater for this new, much more diffuse form of power provision. That’s what happened to BT. Far less certain is that there will be any need for Hinkley Point C. This will in time be seen as a phenomenally expensive and unnecessary form of power generation; Theresa May’s Government will be cursed for locking us into such ruinously high prices. (1)

Britain’s energy system is poised for a rapid expansion of batteries, with 4 gigawatts likely to be operating by 2033, official forecasts show. Renewables will also play a bigger role than forecast, resulting in far fewer gas-fired power stations being built than expected, according to an analysis published by the government in March. No carbon capture and storage plants are likely to be built by 2030, according to the documents, which show the government’s best estimate of the future energy mix if policies are continued.

Large-scale battery technology is still in its infancy, with initial projects totalling 200 megawatts being built. New government forecasts project that this will increase to 1GW by 2021, 2GW by 2025, 3GW by 2029 and 4GW by 2033. Last year’s forecast included no battery capacity but the government said that it had “continued to see significant reductions in the cost of batteries”. The government now forecasts 45GW of renewable capacity will be built by 2035, compared with 33GW a year ago. Forecasts for new gas power plants have been reduced by an amount corresponding to the increase in renewables. (2

) Local authorities have been told they need to develop energy storage strategies, or get left behind. Speaking at the Association for Public Sector Excellence’s (APSE) energy conference, Ray Noble said the price of energy storage systems will come down “faster than solar” and “every onshore wind and solar farm will have one in the future. They [councils] need to put in place the right strategy or work with government to produce the right networks to make certain it happens in their area,” he said. “Local authorities have got to recognise that this is going to happen. They need to be seen to be ahead of the game, and telling people in their area why they are doing this.” Noble said storage will change the face of the energy market beyond recognition. (3)

The community at Garmony on the Isle of Mull is an example of how things might look in the future. It’s not just that the community is running a new 400-kilowatt hydro power plant on an east coast hillside that will plough £2 million into local projects. It’s what they are doing about using the electricity. With the help of experts and a government grant, they are trying to solve one of the most paradoxical problems of renewable power: sometimes there is just too much of it. If the river is flowing fast and full and electricity demand is low, there’s nowhere for the power to go. There’s a limit to how much can be transmitted to the mainland, and no easy way of storing it. The same applies to wind turbines when the wind is blowing hard but homes and factories aren’t hungry for power, at night for example. It’s why electricity consumers have to fund “constraint payments” to compensate generators forced to turn off turbines to avoid overloading the national grid. What the Mull and Iona Community Trust are trying to do is to develop a much smarter local grid that will enable electricity to be stored rather than wasted. It’s called the ACCESS project – Assisting Communities to Connect to Electric Sustainable Sources. It means that electric storage heaters in homes can be automatically switched on and off in order to match the amount of power being generated by the hydro plant. This may not sound like the kind of sophisticated system that is key to the future, but experts insist that it is. It is decentralised, locally owned and community-scale schemes for using renewable energy that have the real potential to revolutionise the energy system.

There are similar initiatives under way on the Orkney islands, where excess electricity from wind turbines can be used to charge community electric vehicles. These are the kind of ideas that, if they are shown to work, could be followed up across the country. “But we need to get away from thinking of green energy just as a bunch of subsidised windmills or wave or tidal turbines, or thinking only about electricity. Green energy in its widest sense includes energy generation technologies, but also heat pumps, energy efficiency, low emission vehicles and smart meters.” (4)

The arrival of large scale renewables with zero operating cost is eating away at the businesses of those companies reliant on selling on the open market. The old business model is now ‘obsolete’. Lower and lower prices are making it impossible to produce electricity from gas or coal in markets increasingly captured by solar and wind. Equally, no-one can raise the finance to build new power stations, even in those countries with ageing fleets, such as the UK, because of low prices and fewer and fewer hours of operation. This problem will get worse. Whether you are an enthusiast for a fast transition to a renewables-based energy system or are sceptical about the pace of change, the destruction of the traditional utility by the eating away of wholesale prices is not good news. It increases the possibility that the increasingly rapid switch to renewables around the world will be brought to a shuddering halt by governments worried about the security of energy supply because of the intermittency of wind and solar. Although we can make huge progress in adjusting electricity use to varying supply, ‘demand response’ will never be enough to deal with weeks of low wind speed and little sun in northern countries.

‘Power-to-gas’ is the critical remaining ingredient of the energy transition, says Chris Goodall. Without a rapid and whole-hearted commitment to this technology, the renewables revolution may ultimately fail. The right way to ‘fix the broken utility model’ is to link the gas and electricity markets through large-scale application of power-to-gas technologies. Big utilities talk about understanding the need for decentralisation but the reality is that they will be terrible at moving away from centralised production plants. What they would be good at is running large scale electrolysis and methanation operations that allow them to continue to run CCGT power plants when electricity is scarce. We will not need capacity payments or other complex subsidies and incentive schemes. By creating a continuing role for CCGT we will have found a way to keep our energy supply secure without threatening decarbonisation objectives.


April 8, 2017 - Posted by | ENERGY, energy storage

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