UK eyes green energy storage boost with battery planning reforms

UK eyes green energy storage boost with battery planning reforms

Legislative amendments planned by the government are intended to as much as triple the number of large batteries in the UK that can store renewable energy for the purposes of powering heat

Planning regulations will be relaxed for the construction of large batteries that could prove vital to provide lower carbon heat, according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The government said it expects the proposals to make it easier to build large battery technologies to store and provide renewable energy all year around for functions such as heating homes and charging vehicles.

Up to 100 new large-scale projects could potentially be built as a result of the amendments. The government had claimed this could triple larger batteries already in operation in the UK.

BEIS said that the proposed legislative changes would allow for storage cells to be introduced to the UK that are as much as five times bigger than currently available technology.

Efforts to expand this battery capacity is seen as being particularly important in the UK, which the government claims has the largest signalled capacity of offshore wind in the world.

BEIS said in a statement, “However, because the availability and speed of wind is not constant, energy can sometimes be produced when it is not needed and then lost.”

Secondary legislation is also expected to be introduced by the government to allow for the capacity of energy projects to be expanded beyond 50MW in England and 350MW in wales.

BEIS added that the importance of energy storage has been highlighted by the need for energy balancing during the Covid-19 pandemic as overall demand fell overall by 20 per cent.

The government said in a statement, “Flexible technologies like batteries will form part of the UK’s smarter electricity grid, supporting the integration of more low-carbon power, heat and transport technologies, which it is estimated could save the UK energy system up to £40bn by 2050.”

Kayte O’Neill, head of markets at the National Grid Electricity System Operator, said the planning changes would come at a time of great change for the UK energy grid that had seen record levels of renewable sources being used to generate power.

She said, “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.”

Green investment pledge

The announcement of the changes to planning laws comes after the chancellor released a Summer Statement earlier this month outlining billions of pounds of investment into decarbonising heat and improving the energy efficiency of homes.  Industry responses have been broadly positive of the move, calling it a good first-step to meet the government’s net-zero carbon targets. Yet a number of trade bodies have said much more policy detail is needed around the support and preferred technologies needed to eliminate carbon emissions.

Influential watchdog, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), has meanwhile said in a recent update report for parliament that the government and regulator Ofgem should work to improve the flexibility of the UK energy system through measures such as storage to meet renewables demand in homes and vehicles.

The report said, “Longer-term, plans should ensure the flexibility available from the interactions between sectors (for example, electric vehicles, electrified heat) and vectors (such as power, hydrogen, energy storage) is used.”

“The decarbonisation of the power sector has been a strong UK success story. Policy will still have an important role in future to ensure the market delivers sufficient scale and flexibility to support the decarbonisation of the rest of the economy.”

The Solar Trade Association (STA) said the pledge to relax planning legislation for energy storage was a welcome move to help further decarbonise energy demand in the UK.

STA chief executive Chris Hewett said, “The next steps in unlocking the potential of energy storage, and maximising the crucial role it can play in managing growing solar and wind output, are to provide greater access to flexibility markets, including the capacity market, and applying fairer network charging rules.”

“Our aim has to be to fully decarbonise these flexibility markets and minimise all use of fossil fuel generation.”

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