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Battery projects could triple in Britain as government lifts barriers

Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng. Image: Gov.uk.

Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng. Image: Gov.uk.

The British government has relaxed planning legislation, in a move that could triple the number of batteries serving the grid.

Ministers have today (14 July) passed secondary legislation that removes barriers for storage projects above 50MW in England and 350MW in Wales. The government hopes that this will lead to storage cells five times the size of those currently under operation.

This will help encourage bolder investment decisions, with more batteries available to balance the grid as the number of intermittent renewables continues to grow.

Energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng said the move was key to capturing the full value of renewables, by ensuring “homes and businesses can still be powered by green energy even when the sun is not shining, or the wind has stopped blowing".

“Removing barriers in the planning system will help us build bigger and more powerful batteries, creating more green-collar jobs and a smarter electricity network.”

The need for greater flexibility has been thrown into focus by the COVID-19 lockdown, as demand fell by around 20% leading National Grid ESO to develop additional tools for flexibility.

Head of markets at National Grid ESO, Kayte O’Neill, said that how the company operates the grid is changing as record levels of renewable energy sources generate more and more of Great Britain’s power.

“Storage can help us make the most of this green energy, using it to manage peaks and troughs in demand and operate the electricity system as efficiently as possible - keeping costs down for consumers too.”

Currently there are 4GW of storage projects in planning in Great Britain. RenewableUK’s director of policy and regulation Rebecca Williams explained further: “The growth in battery storage is accelerating extremely fast in the UK, including large-scale projects at wind and solar farms which are increasing their flexibility by building energy storage on site. This helps to balance the grid, ensuring security of supply for consumers.

“Energy storage using a wide variety of innovative technologies is a global growth industry with more than 450 UK companies leading the way. We currently have over 580 projects, including battery storage, either operational, under construction or in development nationwide, with total capacity of over 17GW. Five years ago, we had a total energy storage pipeline of just 14 projects with a capacity of under 2.7GW.”

Kwarteng’s announcement today has been broadly welcomed by the those in the storage sector and the energy sector more broadly.

The changes were first proposed in October 2019 following a consultation in January of that year.

Madeleine Greenhalgh, policy lead at the Electricity Storage Network, said this was a “significant, positive and well-timed decision from the government” that will encourage larger projects, creating jobs and economic benefits that will help to stimulate a green recovery.

“By recognising the smaller planning impacts of storage projects, this change will save developers time and money and encourage more ambitious storage projects, which are vital to the decarbonising our electricity system. The Electricity Storage Network has been advocating for change to the planning regime for several years and we have been pleased to work with BEIS to make this significant change for the storage industry.”

In October 2019, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced that it would amend the planning legislation as a result of the responses to a consultation launched in January of that year.

Matt Allen, co-founder and CEO of Pivot Power welcomed the decision, saying it will make it easier for the company to build energy storage projects at “the scale and speed required".

“Policy certainty is vital to moving any market forward and we hope to see more measures coming through that support the decarbonisation of power and transport and help UK businesses to invest in a green recovery.”

Additionally, BEIS recently showed support for storage through a £10 million grant to help construct the world's largest liquid air battery. The Carlton Highview Storage project is a 50MW/250MWh CRYOBattery being developed in Trafford, in the Greater Manchester area.

Jake Dunn, renewable development manager at Vattenfall UK joined the warm reaction to the easing of planning restriction, saying it was “absolutely the right way to go.”

“The UK will never be free from fossil-fuels until electricity storage is part of our energy system, but the volumes of power we need to be able to store are huge.

“However, it’s crucial that storage is co-located at solar and wind farm sites, due to the significant logistical and cost benefits that co-location offers for grid connections and land.

"The electricity grid also needs urgent upgrades to be able to cope with the increasing demand for electricity, as we reduce the use of other fuels in our lives, as well as being able to accommodate more renewable generation and greater flexibility in terms of consumer usage.”

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