Opening the grid integration panel in yesterday’s (22 March) Net Zero conference hosted by Scottish Renewables, Kate Mulvany gave an overview on how the UK can tackle grid integration of renewable energy assets.
As a senior consultant for Cornwall Insight, Mulvany identified that the millennium has been one of energy transition. This shift has already happened, said Mulvany which means that the UK must create a grid that can facilitate the smooth integration of renewables, as well as support storage and flexibility assets.
What is the extent of the grid connection challenge?
When asked whether they felt that grid integration was a prominent challenge faced by the UK, each panellist answered in the affirmative.
“It’s a multi-dimensional challenge that isn’t an easy solve” answered Mulvany.
“Real life businesses and institutions, their plans for growth, their plans to carry out research, all of this is being hampered by [grid integration] challenges. So I say yes, it is absolutely an issue.”
The second speaker on the panel was energy consultant for The Energy Landscape, Simon Gill, who suggested that the UK had missed an opportunity by not beginning the process of reform sooner.
“It’s a shame, we’ve got to where we are, which is we’ve got this huge queue of projects that can’t connect as quickly as we need them to,” said Gill.
“I think the principle we need to take is to make sure that we are practical, in our solutions and make sure that we don’t spend too much time sort of worrying about what would be optimal, we need to be practical.”
Lynne Bryceland, head of transmission regulation and policy and SP Energy Networks referenced that grid applications had increased by 84% in Britain last year, which she said “starts to show the extent of the challenge.”
Wholesale prices falling but volatility remains
Despite price moving in a more manageable direction, Mulvany warned that “volatility is likely to remain and higher prices in the long term are also likely to remain compared to the five year average prior to the price crisis.”
This means that the UK will need a market that is able to balance the continuing volatility of the wholesale energy market.
Discussing the current energy market in light of the recently published REMA consultation summary Mulvany added: “It’s a very difficult landscape to operate in whoever you are and that’s exacerbated by the ongoing policy uncertainty.
“We also have to understand the system has been designed not for the country and society we live in today, that are demographic shifts, there are cultural shifts in terms of expectations around the organisation.”
“All of that means we are designing for a fully flexible system that we can’t fully conceptualise yet, we can’t fully understand what that means. So your design has to be allowed to adapt in response to what the human beings who actually use the energy are going to do, and the choices they make about how they live their lives, so the system must be able to ultimately serve the communities better.”
UK’s energy storage system still ‘wrapped up in fossil fuels’
Gill highlighted the growing importance of investing in battery energy storage (BESS) technologies to help facilitate a flexible energy system.
Despite the UK’s BESS capacity experiencing some growth in recent years Gill warned: “fundamentally, our energy storage in the energy system is still very much wrapped up in fossil fuels. So this poses a challenge that I think we need to really engage with, which is that we need to decarbonise and we need to change the way our energy system operates.”
Gill provided an overview of the benefits that a sophisticated energy storage network could offer the UK, including energy resilience and better efficiency.
“[The flexibility granted by energy storage systems] gives us resilience, so that when things happen that we don’t expect, we have backup and that’s one of the big things that energy storage and flexibility provides for us.
“It also helps us be efficient, which helps keep costs down and as we go forward into the future, we’re going to use that fact that energy storage and other forms of flexibility to make sure we can use as much low carbon energy as we can.”
Current± is currently running a mini-series investigating the grid conundrum, the latest feature can be found here.