Hugh Maguire, senior project development manager at SSE Solar and Battery, celebrates the humble battery and explains how to ramp up battery storage capacity in the UK.
This Saturday marks International Battery Day, a time to celebrate and reflect on a technology that plays an essential part in our lives, from the devices in our homes to the power systems we depend on.
As the UK becomes increasingly reliant on renewable energy, it prompts us to think about the range of technologies that will be required to achieve net-zero. With extreme weather now more and more common, the day serves as a stark reminder of the importance of addressing climate change.
During the winter months, the grid has to work harder to ‘keep the lights on’, as demand for heating and lighting our homes peaks. A fact made ever more pressing since Russian forces invaded Ukraine and the UK had to cut its dependence on fossil fuel gas from Russia. Some industry analysts have even predicted that next winter will be worse.
In addition, the Government is rapidly decarbonising the country’s energy system, aiming to deliver a net zero electricity grid by 2035 – and research has shown that carbon intensity has fallen by 61 per cent in the past decade. Our grid is relying on intermittent renewables, such as wind and solar energy, more than ever before. Researchers from Imperial College London have found that 2022 was a record-breaking year for renewable energy in the UK, with 40 per cent of electricity produced by wind, solar, biomass and hydropower.
The shift away from fossil fuels is very welcome for our environment and the UK’s energy security. After all, by enabling 100 per cent renewable power and scaling solutions to utilise it effectively, we can eliminate nearly three quarters of global emissions and decouple economic growth from carbon. But it also throws a sharp focus on the technologies required to balance peaks and troughs in supply against those of demand.
As the UK accelerates its decarbonisation journey and our energy system transitions to intermittent renewable technologies, are we doing enough to ensure that the grid is properly supported?
Currently, the UK has 2.1 gigawatt hours (GWh) of battery storage online. This means that, with the average household usage at 0.3 kilowatts per hour, we can store enough electricity to power seven million homes. There are 27.8 million homes in the UK, meaning our batteries can already power one in four of them. But we need to keep going.
According to the Climate Change Committee, we will need 18 GW of installed battery capacity by 2035 to reach net zero. Research shows that this would be enough to cover 45 per cent of our energy needs during the day in winter (the UK required 39.9 GW at 3pm on Thursday 2nd February 2023, for example). With ever greater reliance on intermittent renewables, it is clear that we need to ramp up the amount of battery storage to enable us to call upon this energy when the sun is not shining, or the wind is not blowing – and fast.
Not doing so risks the grid failing to ‘keep the lights on’, which would alienate the public, developers and investors alike, jeopardising our journey to net zero. We cannot let that happen.
To unlock this rapid battery capacity growth, we need to remove barriers to development. There are three ways to do this:
The good news is that as an industry we are turning up the dial year on year. 2022 was a record year for utility-scale battery projects, as more than 800 MW was added to the pipeline. This represents an eight-fold increase on 2017, which was the first year where over 100 MW of battery storage was added, showing the huge growth there has been in just a few short years.
Every battery project that goes live supports our power system, helping to bring more renewable energy sources online while delivering a more resilient, flexible grid that’s equipped for our net zero future.
Continuing to build on the volume and scale of battery storage projects across the UK – like SSE Solar and Battery Storage is doing in Salisbury – will be essential in supporting the increase in renewable energy generation capacity in the UK.