Climate change last chance – more energy storage to cut carbon26 April 2022
Two highly-strategic documents recently highlighted major energy threats we now face … plus action needed urgently to avoid chaos. Fortunately, UK energy storage capacity doubled in the last year. I think this represents an important solution in an area where we already have a proven track record.
To see how these different pieces fit together, we need to understand not only why uncomfortable reports and strategies are now coming in thick and fast, but also why what they say is so worrying.
However, against this background, positive energy storage news is a welcome bonus that I illustrate later with a March 2022 case study of how we are helping to back up the National Grid in Greater Manchester.
A warning, a plan, and some good news
The first report in February 2022 was a frantic warning by UN climate scientists that global warming is still rising far too fast – leaving us with just three years to pass a final greenhouse gas emissions peak in 2025 before a rapid drop to net-zero by 2050 if we want to keep the planet reasonably cool.
The second, hard on its heels in March, was the Government’s new British Energy Security Strategy drawn up in the middle of a multiple-crisis not to lower costs but guarantee long-term UK access to energy.
What links the two is an absolutely pressing need for low-carbon technologies and pragmatic wide-scale solutions. And this is where energy storage is on the starting blocks for a massive role.
World problems and our solutions
I would like to examine how, with our experience of integrating project management, planning strategy and technical advice, we could turn this complex situation to our advantage.
The backdrop is, of course, increasing pressures to swap fossil-fuels for renewables, expand the nuclear power sector, use far less energy … and crucially use what energy we do use much more efficiently.
I’ll start by looking at the booming potential of UK energy storage, but also why recent studies are so troubling. I’ll then go on to provide more information on energy storage capacity and Enzygo’s expertise.
100% leap in storage projects in a year
Going low-carbon often involves some less obvious priorities. One is reducing waste and its associated emissions – wherever possible converting waste streams into clean sustainable fuels.
However, also gathering momentum very swiftly is the development, installation and commissioning of both well-established and highly-innovative energy storage technologies.
In the year to April 2022, the number of projects under construction, consented or being planned in the UK energy storage pipeline doubled from 16.1GW to 32.1GW, according to another report, this time from RenewableUK (https://electricenergyonline.com/article/energy/category/EV-Storage/143/954918/Pipeline-of-UK-energy-storage-projects-doubles-within-12-months.html).
Putting energy away for a rainy day
Enzygo (https://enzygo.com/) works on renewable energy projects but also helps to bring energy storage systems online. Because this is a less well-known sector, I want to focus on it first.
One important point is that different energy storage plants are designed for different roles.
Some are short-term, such as smoothing out daily wind and solar energy fluctuations. Others are tied closely to longer-term weather and climate impacts that are linked to both maintaining a stable average power output from renewables and strategic energy security.
We are involved with what I would describe as routine energy storage projects, but also pioneering programmes at the cutting-edge of emerging energy-from-waste and waste-to-fuel technologies
As a result, we have already won planning consent for natural gas and battery storage projects with a combined capacity of more than 1GW, and I see this as a major future growth area.
Most recently, we prepared and submit a full application for a 40MW energy storage facility (with an operational limit of 35MW), plus associated equipment, parking, boundaries, landscaping, and vehicular access (https://www.enzygo.com/projects/construction-of-40mw-energy-storage-facility/).
Balancing fluctuating renewables with stable nuclear base-loads
But why are storage plants particularly important now?
The answer, as hinted at above, is that even highly-efficient solar PV panels and wind turbines suffer from intermittency. When the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, energy generation can tail off swiftly.
However gas/landfill gas and standby battery facilities can store spare excess energy generated on good days, and release it again on bad ones, or to meet peak grid demands.
This makes them a crucial tool for balancing continuously changing high and low outputs from weather-dependent renewables with the stable base-loads from up to eight new nuclear stations now proposed by the Government.
Why removing local planning barriers is important
However, another key characteristic of energy storage is that planning issues tend to be largely local, as are the potential benefits for neighbourhoods and communities.
This can be important. While new nuclear power stations may take decades to build, windfarms can be assembled in just one year – but after up to five spent navigating the complex planning process.
The Government wants to speed up offshore wind project planning. But by lifting a 2015 ban, it also hopes to work with communities sympathetic to onshore wind proposals in return for cheap energy.
Absolutely last change warning!
So why are all the issues critical now? The answer goes back to the studies and reports I mentioned at the beginning.
On 4th April 2022, 278 scientific authors in 65 countries working with thousands of expert contributions from climate specialists around the world published the third in a series of extremely worrying UN global warming reports.
“Mitigation of Climate Change” (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg3/ from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC – https://www.ipcc.ch/) looks at practical ways to avoid severe, and potentially irreversible climate change damage.
It follows just weeks after the second report in the series – “Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability” (https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg2/) which pinpointed causes and impacts of global warming.
Both come after an initial August 2021 report showed conclusive evidence that human activity is an ‘unequivocally’ cause of accelerating climate change.
Just 36 months to act
Alarmingly, the authors warn the world has just 36 months left until 2025 to pass ‘peak’ greenhouse gas emissions and keep average temperature rises down to a relatively safe 1.50C this century.
Beyond that, they predict that the environmental consequences could be chaotic and irreversible. Or as UN general secretary António Guterres puts it, we risk creating a world that is ‘unliveable’.
However, the researchers are not holding their breath!
Their previous warnings were largely ignored. Governments around the globe signed up to urgent emission-cutting agreements, they explain, but then ignored them for expedient political reasons.
Hope is not lost
The situation is now so bad that after 34 years of work since the IPCC was founded in 1988 lead authors are threatening to ‘strike’ because they feel they are simply wasting their time.
However, they have left a glimmer of hope – if the world can finally act in unison on renewables and low-carbon solutions!
The UK’s new secure energy strategy
On April 6th 2022, the Government released its new UK energy strategy designed to prompt a ‘major acceleration of home-grown power generation’ with both low-carbon and fossil-fuels (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/major-acceleration-of-homegrown-power-in-britains-plan-for-greater-energy-independence).
Its aim is not about shielding the UK from rising energy bills made worse by soaring global prices (https://enzygo.com/energy-crisis-what-crisis-and-what-solutions/), but increasing resilience to future shocks by weaning the UK off fossil-fuels. No significant new Treasury spending is involved.
However, a key goal is that 95% of UK power will come from renewables by 2030. This is ambitious both in scale and the envisaged implementation timetable.
What the strategy includes
A specific goal is to increase nuclear capacity from 7GW to 24GW by starting to construct up to eight new power stations before 2030. Offshore wind targets are being raised from 40GW to 50GW. Current wind capacity is 11GW; 5GW could be generated by floating turbines in deep water.
There is less emphasis on solar energy, although capacity could increase fivefold from 14GW to 70GW by 2035. There will also be an ‘impartial’ review into whether controversial fracking technology (hydraulic rock fracturing to release natural gas) is safe.
Interestingly, the strategy includes up to 10GW of both ‘green’ and ‘blue’ hydrogen power by 2030 (https://enzygo.com/tiny-hydrogen-gets-set-to-knock-out-big-bad-carbon/).
No waste of high-calorific waste
But, technical advances also mean that instead of being incinerated or sent to landfill, domestic and municipal waste can now join the ‘no waste’ circular economy (https://wrap.org.uk/about-us/our-vision/wrap-and-circular-economy)
This includes ‘energy-from-waste, and ‘waste-to-fuel’, projects. An example is Velocys in North East Lincolnshire where Enzygo had a leading role (https://www.velocys.com/2020/05/20/nelc-planning-committee-approves-waste-to-jet-fuel-plant/).
How much energy storage will the UK need?
That is an interesting question.
A new study by Oxford-based Aurora Energy Research (https://auroraer.com/) says up to 46GW of storage capacity will be needed to both manage the highs and lows of renewable energy intermittency and meet net-zero in power sector emissions by 2035.
Of this, circa 22GW will be short-duration – up to 4 hours; the remaining 24GW will be longer-duration – weeks and months – with 40% in the 8 to 16-hour range. It calculates that some 38GW will be needed to redistribute excess renewable generation.
The study identifies seven long-duration technologies – plus pumped hydro – nearing commercialisation: – lithium-ion batteries, liquid air, flow batteries, compressed air, gravitational, molten salt, and hydrogen.
Energy bill cuts and investment challenges
It adds that long-duration storage could cut power sector carbon emissions by 10Mt/year by 2035; total system costs could fall by £1.13 billion – equating to an average household bill cut of £26. Long-duration storage could also reduce UK power sector reliance on gas by up to 50TWhth by 2035.
However, the report also warns that high upfront costs, long lead times, plus a lack of revenue certainty and market signals for investment, could result in higher power sector costs and emissions. Early and urgent investment decisions are needed.
Setting a precedent
Enzygo’s approach to planning and permitting matches the unfolding transition from fossil-fuels to renewables and energy storage in a cost-sensitive energy economy.
As planning advisors, one of our key responsibilities is to understand the implications of novel technologies and ensure they can be explained clearly to everyone involved.
To do this, we bring together technical, but also landscape, ecology, hydrology, acoustic, air quality, geo-engineering and soil-engineering experts who have won planning consent for almost all our major projects.
Our starting point is knowing what our clients have in mind, and their operational circumstances before shaping proposals to their early development needs, and ending or mitigating negative long-term environmental impacts.
We also respond positively to objections from statutory consultees and the public on key issues such as noise, air quality, visual amenity, transport, drainage, biodiversity and the natural environment.
However, winning important consents quickly – with the cooperation of planning officials – has also including on complex technical projects like Velocys flexible approval so no extra applications are needed as detailed development planning continues.
More storage statistics
As a footnote, RenewableUK says operational battery storage capacity has grown by 45%, from 1.1GW to 1.6GW, with projects under construction more than doubling to 1.4GW. A further 10.4GW has been consented, 7.7GW submitted for planning, with 10.9GW still to be submitted.
December 2020 legislation changes that allow local planning authorities to rule on projects larger than 50MW in England and 350MW in Wales have seen a shift to larger projects averaging 54MW. The average project a decade ago was 2MW. A 50MW battery can charge 2,000 electric vehicles.
If you would like more information, or to discuss individual projects, please contact me directly.
Matt Travis, Company Director, Enzygo Ltd.
See our LinkedIn article – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/climate-change-last-chance-more-energy-storage-cut-carbon-/