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Government failing to adequately support vital electricity storage technologies says IMechE

01 June 2012

Engineers are calling for urgent action to support technologies that are not only crucial to securing future electricity supplies, but which could put the UK at the forefront of a $25bn industry. The UK Government is failing to provide sufficient support for electricity storage technologies, which are becoming increasingly important to secure electricity supplies, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) claims.

IMechE head of energy and environment, Tim Fox said that as the UK ramps up its dependence on power generation from intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind, the need to develop electricity storage technologies becomes ever more pressing. "These technologies hold the key to providing consumers with renewable electricity when they need it, rather than just when the wind is blowing," says Dr Fox. "This will save on bills through not having to pay for dumped energy and unnecessary infrastructure.

“For too long we’ve been reliant on using expensive “back-up” fossil-fuel plants to cope with the inherent intermittency of many renewables," he continues. "Electricity storage is potentially cleaner and once fully developed is likely to be much cheaper. But Government incentives and policies to support development and deployment of electricity storage technologies are currently scant and ill-designed. The potential value of storage to the UK power network is at present not well understood by Westminster.”

UK electricity demand is set to double by 2050 due, in part, to the increase in use of electricity to provide heating and power cars. This increase in demand combined with the UK’s ambitious climate change targets and the EU Renewables Directive means the UK is set to rely increasingly on renewable power. Renewable technologies like wind and solar power, although presenting many benefits, are inherently intermittent and as such cause problematic swings in supply on the UK grid.

The UK currently has 2,800 MW of electricity storage capacity in the form of pumped hydro-electric storage. According to National Grid we will need 8,000 MW of electricity storage capacity by 2025 if the penetration of wind power in the network is 30%. The worldwide market for electricity storage is estimated to be worth $20bn - $25bn a year by 2020.

The IMechE's Electricity Storage policy statement calls on government to adopt the following recommendations:

Support actions to identify the true system benefit of electricity storage. As a matter of priority the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) should carry out a detailed analysis to estimate the realistic requirements for electricity storage across the whole UK power system and its corresponding value to the nation.

Develop policy frameworks that reward the value of electricity storage in the UK’s power markets. The UK Government’s Electricity Market Reform (EMR), which is examining and revising the commercial and regulatory structure of the nation’s electricity market, should take into account the unique nature of electricity storage and remunerate investors and operators accordingly.

Encourage and support UK development of storage technologies for exploitation in world markets. The UK Government should advance the commercial-scale demonstration of electricity storage technologies in the UK, and thereby create technical value that UK companies can export overseas.
The policy statement can be read in full here.

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