The CEO of a renewable energy company has told Express.co.uk that the UK is at risk of losing billions of pounds worth of cheap, clean energy over the next few years due a lack of storage sites, which if built would ensure that excess power does not go to waste. Amid an energy crisis that is seeing millions of Britons get pushed into fuel poverty as wholesale gas prices continue to expose Britain’s vulnerability to volatile global markets, shoring up as many clean sources of homegrown power as possible has become more important than ever as the UK scrambles for energy independence.
But while Britain appears to be doing a job at ramping up its renewable energy capacity, there is a major flaw with the existing infrastructure that means it is not reaching its true potential.
The intermittent nature of renewables like wind energy means that during extended periods of high wind, it can generate excess amounts of power which, if is demand is low, will not be needed. There is then the potential for the extra energy to be stored and later used when demand is high.
But the problem is that currently, the UK does not have enough capacity to store this energy, which means it cannot be sent back into the grid and later to millions of homes when demand is high. According to Rupert Pearce, CEO of Highview Power, this means that billions of pounds worth of cheap energy is going to waste.
He told Express.co.uk: “Today, because the electricity network is basically a hosepipe, whatever you put in has to come out the other end. If there isn’t a demand, you can’t stuff energy into the hosepipe, and the wind, unfortunately, doesn’t blow in accordance with demand.”
“When the wind blows, it blows. 70 percent of the time it is blowing, but there isn’t a demand for it, so we have got massive constraints on our wind power. Unless it is captured and stored, it gets lost.”
And as the UK is a leader in offshore wind, generating increasing amounts of its electricity via this energy source, it also means that vast amounts of energy is going to waste.
Mr Pearce continued:”This year, we will lose more than 3.5 terawatt hours of wind. There is just no market for it in the millisecond. That is enough power to fuel Liverpool for an entire wind, so millions of people are losing access to this cheap energy.
“Offshore wind generators are being told already that there just won’t be a market…and unless they embrace a strategic relationship with storage, we can’t get it into a form where it can actually be delivered. The huge irony is, today National Grid is paying £1billion a year for windfarms not to deliver wind. Under contractual arrangements designed to stimulate investment in offshore wind infrastructure, they have to pay whether it is delivered or not. That is going to grow four or fivefold in the next few years.”
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However, to combat this significant issue, Highview Power is plotting to build 20 energy storage sites around the country in areas near turbines where the wind is blowing strongest to ensure that far less of that power goes down the drain.
Mr Pearce said: “We are building offshore wind at an incredible pace. We have gone from 11 gigawatts to 50 gigawatts in seven years and it is transformational for the UK economy. That is taking us from 40 percent of offshore wind generation today to 90 percent to the end of the decade.
“It is in the North Sea, it is off the east and west coast of Scotland and a bit off Wales. Wherever that wind gets landed, we are going to be building our power stations to capture the excess wind.”
One of those sites includes a planned £250million to build a storage plant in Carrington, which once built would have 30megawatts capacity and the ability to store 300megawatt hours of electricity, enough to supply 600,000 homes with clean power for an hour.
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Storage plants can hold power for long periods of time and are capable of providing a stable supply of energy similar to coal and gas fossil plants. Highview Power’s plants will use what is known as liquid air energy storage.
This technology stores energy by using unused electricity from the grid to power a refrigeration system that turns the air into a liquid state at -196C. When demand returns, the liquid air is evaporated back into gas, using the pressure of re-expansion to power a turbine that also generates electricity for the grid.
Highview Power argues that once these renewable energy storage stations are built, they will bring a huge boost to the UK economy, generating up £3.4billion by 2030.
Back in February, the Government announced a £7million fund to help turbocharge UK projects that are developing energy storage technologies.The then Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Hands said: “Driving forward energy storage technologies will be vital in our transition towards cheap, clean and secure renewable energy.
“It will allow us to extract the full benefit from our home-grown renewable energy sources, drive down costs and end our reliance on volatile and expensive fossil fuels.