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UK Warning Highlights Energy Storage Importance To Renewables

The United Kingdom, which has recently set a record for wind power meeting its demand, issued a security of supply alert earlier this week as wind power output was low due to calm weather. This event highlights the need of increased energy storage capacity able to balance power to the grid at times of strained supply, energy historian and expert Ellen R. Wald wrote in Forbes.

On Tuesday, National Grid ESO issued an electricity margin notice (EMN) for the evening on Wednesday. “This is a routine signal that we send to the market to indicate that we’d like a larger cushion of spare capacity,” National Grid said. The grid operator was expecting tight margins on the UK electricity system because of low renewable output and the availability of generators over periods of the day with higher demand.

“The tight margins on the electricity system are the result of a number of factors including the weather, demand for electricity and the availability of generators,” National Grid said on Wednesday.

The UK alert about tight margins of spare supply poses again the question of how grids will accommodate growing shares of wind and solar power generation while ensuring there will be no blackouts.

The UK wants to significantly boost its wind power generation, which already holds a high share in the power mix, to the point of powering every home with wind by 2030.

The UK will aim to become a global leader in offshore wind energy, powering every home in the country with wind by 2030, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in early October.

Currently, offshore wind meets 10 percent of the UK electricity demand. 

Last year, the UK became the first major economy in the world to enshrine into law its target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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  • Pekka Lehtikoski on November 08 2020 said:
    This comment is related to the "Importance of energy storage" in the title.

    Energy storage is really the key question for renewable energy. Energy must be available where and when it is needed, not where and when it is produced. We can answer to "where" by building a new ultra high voltage grid, but "when" is more difficult. Current lithium batteries cost $300 per kWh (2020) and have a lifetime of 12+ years. Just for the order of magnitude, If we need to store 12 hours of single 1GW solar power plant production, we need almost 12GWh of storage, which with today's technology would be 3.6 billion dollars for energy storage, on average every 12 years. This battery installation would also be quite impressive, some 15000 U-haul truck size batteries.

    The US consumes 25155 TWh energy (all energy, not just electricity) annually. To make this by only solar power (average capacity factor 0.25 used), we need average power of 2871 GW, thus we need roughly 11486 GW of installed solar power capacity. That means roughly 10000 very large 1GW solar installations. When we start to take things to the US scale, besides of $36 trillion dollars in battery cost every 12 years, also the world's available lithium resources become an issue. At the latest when we start to scale up from the US to global.

    Numbers here can be argued, and they are not even meant to be exact. Just a ballpark calculation to get the idea with 50% error margin. Alternative storages: The issue of hydrogen storage is 2/3 roundtrip loss, making our solar installation still twice bigger, and with pumping storage the geographic/environmental requirements. Also worth noting is here that we have no emergency backup, we are not prepared for war, terrorism, or natural catastrophe. That
    would require a lot more storage.

    To make the transformation to renewables real we need better energy storage. Either breakthrough in battery technology or completely new tech. This is not solvable by simply throwing money at it (although it may help to motivate researchers).

    But it is well possible to produce a significant part of energy by renewables, without energy storage and just natural gas as backup.
    Here we cannot speak of carbon-neutral or zero emissions, but this is doable today. All it takes is will and money to invest in the grid and maintain two energy production infrastructures.

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