Battery storage development is key to achieving net zero

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In our last blog, we discussed grid connections and how our renewable infrastructure still needs a radical transformation to fully eradicate our fossil fuel dependency.

A key piece of the renewable puzzle lies in our battery storage developments. The UK’s climate can’t generate renewable sources all year round – if the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, soon enough, demand outstretches supply.

But battery storage units can provide a solution. When energy consumption peaks in the winter months (around 30% higher than in the summer), they step in to regulate demand, and improve distribution across the grid.

As it stands, however, we haven’t got enough battery storage units to proficiently react to the winter peaks.

Encouragingly, in July of last year, the Government relaxed planning legislation to allow more units to be built. Battery storage developers can now apply for planning permission using local planning rules and bypass an otherwise lengthy planning system.

Previous restrictions also meant developers had to limit their energy storage units to no more than 50MW in size. The Government has now lifted those constraints, paving the way for more large-scale developments to connect to the grid.

Global power generation firm Intergen was one of the first major developers to capitalise on the change in legislation. It’s just been granted planning on a 320MW project on the Thames Estuary in Essex, south-east England, with a potential to expand to 1.3GWh (enough to power 300,000 homes).

The project’s getting underway in 2022 and set to be completed by 2024 – a relatively small timeframe for a development that’s going to make such a significant impact to our green infrastructure.

It’s a turning point for the sector, as more and more projects of this scale are currently going through our planning system. But there’s still some trepidation from investors moving into the space.

Battery storage is still a relatively new concept on the market and, like with any new technology, it takes time for people to fully trust its potential. They want to see concrete evidence that it’s a proven and profitable solution before making their move.

On a podcast on Property Week, Ed Dixon Head of ESG at Aviva Investors highlighted his belief that the Government can do more to encourage investors and indicate which technologies the industry needs to prioritise.

“What’s really needed are clear subsidy signals from ministers that make emerging and complex technologies, like battery storage, more deliverable,” he said.

The public sector took the same approach when wind and solar were in their infancy. Understandingly, these projects were once seen as very daunting prospects to any developers unschooled in the space. They’re highly technical pieces of equipment, built on a large scale, so bringing together the necessary parts was, and still is, a huge logistical undertaking. Ideal locations for these sites are almost always in remote areas of the country, making them extremely complex developments to project manage.

And this is all after going through an inevitably long and drawn-out planning process. Aesthetically, wind farms have never been considered eye-catching and were always contentious to the community they were proposed to.

However, Government subsidies not only gave investors a financial incentive, but also endorsed renewable developments as a viable option and made the risks seem more surmountable. This approach will likely have the same impact on battery storage too.

The opportunity in the battery storage market is clear for all to see. And if we’re ever going to meet our net-zero target in 2050, battery storage will be an essential component of our renewable network.

But there’s currently a limit to the amount of risks developers and funders are willing to take that’s seriously stunting the necessary growth in the market. Government and regulatory authorities have a big role to play in shifting the narrative and educating the industry on a technology that will transform our fight against climate change.

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