Dr Alastair Martin: Powering up for a flexible future

Managing renewables requires a different apporach, writes Alastair Martin

The now closed Longannet power station. Picture: Michael Gillen

Europe’s most efficient gas power station, near Munich, is in mothballs. The ending of power generation at Longannet was one of a long series of closures which has not yet run its course. Stations which managed to stay open now fight for run-hours. Over the past five years, wholesale electricity prices across Europe have halved.

Yet infrastructure is booming. A Norwegian consortium recently applied for permission to connect Peterhead with southern Norway with an undersea cable. Scottish Power’s ‘Western Bootstrap’ will soon join Ayrshire to the Wirral. In a few years, Britain will sit at the centre of a cat’s cradle of gigawatt-scale submarine power lines.

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At Flexitricity, we are currently besieged by battery developers, a breed of entrepreneur unheard of until recently. They’re all working on small energy storage projects that, collectively, would take Britain’s ability to store electricity from zero to more capacity than the nuclear industry had at its peak.

So is this feast or famine?

The paradox has many causes, but one is obvious. Good Energy recently tabulated over 28 gigawatts of renewable generation across the UK, and showed how that pulls wholesale prices down. Wind farms are eating fossil fuel’s lunch. But managing renewables takes flexibility. Selling some to Norway when their reservoirs ice up, or popping some in a battery for later, clearly helps.

Flexitricity has been working quietly with National Grid and a small number of businesses for the last couple of years on a scheme to make use of excess renewable energy, preferably close to where it’s generated. This scheme recently broke cover under the moniker ‘demand turn-up’. Flexible consumption allows Scottish industry to use renewables to commercial advantage.

It’s our energy. Let’s put it to work.

• Dr Alastair Martin is chief strategy officer and founder of Flexitricity.