Technology will support a renewable energy revolution in the UK

Posted on 23 January 2023

​The UK is looking toward technology to achieve its energy ambitions, with renewables continuing to rise within the UK energy mix. National Grid confirmed that wind power had generated 21GW of generation for the first time in January. Its report on energy usage in 2022 showed that low-carbon energy sources like solar, wind, hydrogen and nuclear delivered over 50% of the UK’s energy in February, May, October, November and December.

The study shows promising results, particularly for the government working towards the energy security strategy and accelerating energy independence. Targets include accelerating solar energy from 14GW to 70GW by 2035, increasing offshore wind from 11GW of capacity to 50GW by 2030, and achieving 10GW of hydrogen for the same period. The challenge for the government is managing this significant increase and making it possible to store energy to meet the future needs of the UK as the country moves away from fossil fuels.

The UK battery storage industry

The EU and UK have eliminated possible blackouts this winter with the support of significant amounts of additional liquefied natural gas, mainly from the US, with supplies stored for weeks at a time. In comparison, the timeframe for lithium-ion batteries storing renewable energy is only a few hours. Mechanical facilities like pumped hydrogen and liquid air have delivered about a day of storage, with a pumped facility in Scotland achieving a record duration domestically for an output of 22 hours.

Adam Bell, the head of policy at Stonehaven, believes challenges can be solved, and electrical stores like lithium can provide short-term charging options for EVs. While long-term storage could be managed by energy sources like hydrogen. Bell believes further innovation and a mix of energy sources to be available to achieve the UK’s energy needs, with nuclear also playing an important role. Each energy source has a vital part to play, and getting the mix of these assets right is challenging for the government and National Grid, who must create the right markets to deliver the right mix of assets at the right time.

In contrast, James Baden, the founder and director of the clean energy business Zenobe Energy believes the renewable energy industry must recognise that gas will continue to have a vital role in energy supplies for some time. In a recent interview, Baden stated that gas will be part of our supply mix for the next two decades until we have delivered a long-term sustainable storage solution. In his opinion, the West will require gas reserves to enable the renewable energy transition and future disruption after Russia invaded Ukraine.

Octopus Energy has determined that there is a little over 3GW of lithium-ion battery storage installed nationwide, with an additional 6GW in development and a further 30GW in the planning stages. Devrim Celal, the CEO of the energy management platform Kraken Flex was positive that the development of interconnectors could support UK energy supplies during times of shortages. While he admitted long-term solutions are required, Celal stated that there are solutions for today and technologies that can support us in the future.

One example of innovation in the energy industry is the battery storage plans by Zenobe energy. For the first 11 months of 2022, National Grid spent over £1.3 billion on constraining energy supplies to prevent the grid from being overwhelmed. In the last month, over £80 million was spent on deactivating wind turbines, even during periods of record generation. Zenobe energy has contracts to design large 200-300MW battery facilities capable of storing energy for multiple hours. Supplying energy to the grid during surges, meaning National Grid wouldn’t have to depend on fossil fuels to deal with any shortcomings in renewable energy. The National Grid knows that the batteries can be activated quickly, considerably faster than breakers, meaning a cheaper alternative, and with added environmental benefits.

In conclusion, the renewable energy industry remains optimistic about the future. Barnaby Wharton, director of future electricity systems at Renewable UK, explains that the UK requires every tool available, including long-term storage but also believes the technology is there and progressing, in terms of batteries, hydrogen and offshore wind. It’s now more about how we deploy these energy sources and how to reduce costs and ensure they are competitive for customers.

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