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A 6MWh Wärtsilä energy storage system is being installed at the Lerwick power station. Image: SSEN.
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Learning from COVID-19 to unlock more value from energy storage

A 6MWh Wärtsilä energy storage system is being installed at the Lerwick power station. Image: SSEN.

Nearly one year since the COVID-19 lockdowns began across the UK and Europe, those building our future energy systems must ensure that the valuable learnings from this difficult time are not lost.

COVID-19 has demonstrated that intelligent energy storage is crucial for accelerating the uptake of renewable energy on the National Grid, building stronger resilience into the future low carbon electricity system and enabling our transition to net zero.

The value of storage

Modelling from the Wärtsilä Energy Transition Lab last year showed that the impact of COVID-19 accelerated the electricity system transition across Europe, with renewables reaching levels not expected for another ten-years. This was valuable for proving that our energy systems can support very high levels of renewable power, while also highlighting the crucial changes that need to be made in order to sustainably deliver up to 100% renewable energy in the near future.

The tool revealed that the inflexibility of many of Europe’s power systems caused severe price volatility during the peak renewable times. In the UK especially, a harsh and turbulent winter has caused six grid margin notices for extra capacity so far – a situation not seen since 2008 – and marked by prices as high as £1,500/MWh.

Energy storage providers have benefited significantly from this price volatility by exporting power during high-price, peak times and importing power when prices and demand are low. However, this level of price volatility is unsustainable and is a clear market signal that flexibility must be baked into the UK’s energy system planning alongside rapid renewable generation uptake.

Intelligently maximising revenues

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the energy storage industry is booming. The UK sector has grown more than 27 times since 2017, to nearly 1.2GW of overall capacity. And the trend is only set to continue – up to 12GW of energy storage could be grid-connected by 2030.

This industry growth is cause for celebration, but with significant investment, comes significant pressure to deliver more value for generators, grid operators and consumers alike. What’s more, the current backdrop of global recessions due to COVID-19 and increasing momentum to achieve a 100% renewable energy system means the pressure is really on.

So, how can we squeeze every drop of value from energy storage to accelerate our green recovery and rapidly move towards net zero?

Intelligent energy management systems are proven to rapidly increase the profitability of energy storage projects. These systems allow asset managers to monitor, control and optimise energy storage assets to maximise the revenues achievable from single storage assets to whole nation-wide portfolios.

We are using our intelligent system – GEMS – in our project with Pivot Power to optimise energy storage and renewable generation to best support electric vehicle charging infrastructure. By using software to unlock the balancing potential for entire energy portfolios in this way, energy storage is already becoming even more appealing to investors and asset managers.

Lerwick: An island case-study

Battery storage is already helping parts of the UK energy system to decarbonise and enabling renewable generation to become a larger share of the total generation.

Wärtsilä recently launched an advanced energy storage project that will accelerate the decarbonisation of Scotland's Shetland Islands. The system will be installed for Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN), which belongs to SSE plc, one of the UK’s largest utilities.

There are more than 2,200 inhabited islands across the EU, many of which rely on expensive fossil fuel imports for power. This can mean that they are more likely to experience more frequent and longer blackouts and presents unique challenges for the transition to net zero carbon emissions.

The 6MWh Wärtsilä energy storage system will be installed at the main power station, which is operated by SSEN in Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands. The power station runs on diesel fuel and the new efficient energy storage system will enable significant reduction of the plant’s emissions.

This project demonstrates that decarbonising energy systems can go hand-in-hand with increasing power system reliability and cutting costs. It will show how advanced flexible technologies can benefit communities all over the world as we strive to achieve 100% renewable energy.

The Shetland Islands are leading the way and providing a blueprint for other islands to follow. What’s more, the learnings will enable us to plan the best use of energy storage for larger island nations – such as the whole of the UK.

The UK government should take notice and react to the clear market signals by delivering an energy plan that embraces and supports the potential of flexible energy storage to unlock more renewables, deliver a green economic recovery and position the country as a leader in this vital year for decarbonisation.

Our publisher Solar Media will be hosting the Energy Storage Summit 2021 in an exciting new format on 3-4 March. See the website for more details.

Björn Ullbro's photo

Björn Ullbro VP for Africa & Europe at Wärtsilä Energy

Björn Ullbro is vice president for Africa & Europe at Wärtsilä Energy.


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