In parliament: Capacity crunch? Is storage the answer?

4th November 2015

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Gerry McArdle

Alan Whitehead asks whether storage is the answer to the capacity crunch

The capacity of UK power stations to provide for the highest likely demand this coming winter is increasingly marginal and again there are forecasts of tightening capacity margins. This is not helped by some gas-fired power stations being mothballed and the closure of some coal-fired plants as they wear out and fail to meet important pollution standards.

But I don't think that the lights will go out this winter. The National Grid has developed a number of back-up programmes, and additional power can be supplied through interconnectors from Holland and France.

However, if the rate of power station closures without replacements continues, there certainly could be a crunch in a few years. It is the nature of those replacements, though, that ought to give us pause for thought.

Even after the recent government announcements curtailing the development of renewable energy, there is already a vast amount of renewables in the system - about a quarter of Britain's overall installed capacity. The problem is that these installations are scattered across the country and are, to a greater or lesser degree, intermittent - they do not generate all the time.

This is where storage comes in. Increasingly, electricity can be stored effectively in batteries and this technology is particularly suited to dispersed renewables. It is not that renewables do not generate well, but they often do so when the system does not need their power. Attach battery storage to large wind farms or large solar arrays and, hey presto, you have a much more reliable stream of output.

I'm not saying that batteries will solve all our problems: we will undoubtedly need to combine new conventional power stations into the energy mix for many years, but I do think government ought to get seriously behind the next stages of battery storage development.

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