Latest government figures show that renewables accounted for a record 47% of electricity generation in the first quarter of 2020. As we move away from fossil fuels, variable sources of power, such as wind and solar, will dominate the clean energy system of the future. But they can’t do it alone. We’ve known for years that this shift will not only mean replacing dirty, fossil fuel plants with clean, renewable ones. It is also about transforming the way electricity is managed up and down the country.
A system with high levels of renewable power means doing things differently. Instead of catering to large, inflexible sources of power, such as a big coal plant in Yorkshire, we now look to almost one million smaller generators. Farmers who decide to build a wind turbine, or schools installing solar panels, are some of the new generators paving the way for change. We are quickly moving from an old ‘centralised’ model to a democratic one where more people have control over how energy is supplied.
Developing the ability to store clean power is key to a fully renewable, zero-carbon future.
And this is where battery storage comes in. Developing the capacity to store clean power is a key component in the shift to a renewable, zero-carbon future. In recent years, this technology has gone from hopeful prospect to shovel-ready project. Industry data shows that there are 145 battery storage projects now awaiting construction, with a total capacity of three gigawatts.
Storage technologies are important because they provide flexible services to the grid. Large batteries can help with second-by-second changes in energy demand, or they can be placed alongside a renewable plant to store power for when we need it most. And home storage allows consumers to take control over their energy use, cutting costs and carbon emissions at the same time.
This is an exciting time where we have an opportunity to create an entirely new, clean energy system. But as with any major change there are teething problems as we work out how to make it work.
Good Energy has a longstanding commitment to invest and support new clean tech. However, we have found significant challenges with battery storage which need to be resolved quickly. We worked for a number of years on a project to install a giant battery at The Eden Project in Cornwall. This would support the pioneering site on its journey to become zero-carbon and energy independent. So far, our plans have not reached the finish line because of barriers in the market.
Innovative businesses are not able to go ahead with much-needed battery projects because the market is closed off.
These barriers revolve around deep uncertainty in financial support and a hostile policy environment. For any technology to grow, it needs a stable and secure marketplace to do business. This doesn’t exist for small or big batteries, with a complex, ever-changing, and risky market which is stifling the sector.
The responsibility for fixing this must come from government, the regulator Ofgem, and National Grid, working together. The industry needs simplified, consistent policies designed with batteries in mind, and market incentives to allow businesses a return on high investment costs.
Our experience is not unique. While three gigawatts of battery projects have been awarded planning permission, only 450 megawatts have been built. Innovative businesses are not able to go ahead with these much-needed projects because the market is closed off.
The danger is that a lack of creative thinking is slowing down progress on cutting emissions and fighting climate change. Battery storage is yet to reach its potential and we can’t afford to wait years for a solution.