Sustainable Scotland: Without energy storage the UK will miss net-zero targets and continue to rely on foreign imports for power, developer warns

Mark Wilson, chief executive of Intelligent Land Investments Group, the energy developer behind pumped hydro storage projects at Loch Ness, Loch Ericht and Loch Awe as well as utility-scale battery schemes, argues that capacity for storing power is the crucial missing link for the country’s energy security infrastructure.

Events over the past month in Ukraine have highlighted the dangers of depending too heavily on other countries, such as Russia, for our energy needs.

As Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said, “As long as the West is economically dependent on Putin he will do all he can to exploit that dependence. And that is why that dependence must – and will – now end.”

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The Prime Minister has made clear the UK’s plan for addressing this reliance on others stating, “Renewables are the quickest and cheapest route to greater energy independence. We are going to double down on new wind power and greatly accelerate the rollout of new offshore farms.”

Scottish energy development firm Intelligent Land Investments is working on large-scale pumped hydro storage projects, including Red John at Loch Ness and two other proposed schemes at Loch Ericht and Loch Awe
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However, this proposed increase in renewable energy has a crucial missing component.

If it is to work at the scale required to reach net-zero, the UK needs to invest in another important piece of infrastructure – energy storage.

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Without storage the UK will miss its net-zero targets and will continue to be reliant on others for energy security.

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Mark Wilson is chief executive of Scottish energy development firm Intelligent Land Investments. Picture: Jon Lockhart

The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, so what do we do when the supply of power from renewable energy does not meet demand?

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Even today we rely on gas to power the country during these spells of reduced renewable production.

Energy storage enables us to stock up excess power from renewable energy for when it is required and is seen as a crucial enabler for the energy transition.

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Energy storage is categorised into short-duration and long duration solutions.

Short duration, which can supply up to four hours of power, usually comes from grid-scale battery technology.

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Long-duration is anything that can supply power for more than four hours and this can come from a wide variety of sources – including pumped hydro storage (PSH), liquid air energy storage (LAES), flow batteries and compressed air energy storage (CAES) and seasonal storage, which can supply power for much longer duration using hydrogen.

The most recent Future Energy Scenarios report from National Grid presents a range of different credible ways to decarbonise our energy system in order to hit our net-zero targets.

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It estimates that up to 50GW of energy storage will need to be operational by 2050 to hit net-zero.

We currently only have 4GW of energy storage in the UK.

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A recent report from Aurora Energy Research estimated we would require an additional 24GW of long-duration energy storage.

Without these energy storage projects in place the renewable generation capacity in the country will soon hit a green glass ceiling whereby adding more ‘variable’ renewable generation threatens stability and security of supply in our grid network.

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We are currently awaiting the outcome of the UK government’s call for evidence on long-duration storage.

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Having the necessary market mechanism in place will enable the current UK pumped storage hydro pipeline of over 6GW to be built.

Without this missing infrastructure in place the country will struggle to hit net-zero and it will continue to rely on Russia and others for our energy security.

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A cap and floor mechanism, similar to what is in place for interconnectors between the UK and Europe, will get all these nationally significant infrastructure projects moving.

But time, more than ever, is critical.

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The benefits for these projects will extend beyond climate, bringing billions in construction investment into the UK, creating thousands of new jobs just as we emerge from the Covid crisis and ensuring the nation is energy resilient for new uncertain times we find ourselves in.

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