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Predictably secure

UK and European energy storage is vital. “Futureproofing” the UK’s energy supply is dependent on having a well developed energy system that provides secure, low carbon, affordable energy, while providing the flexibility to respond to varying demands and unforeseen circumstances.

An effective energy strategy serves industrial, commercial and domestic users, combining a wide range of energy sources with a resilient energy transmission network. For that mix to function, there must be a dynamic balance between supply and demand afforded by Smart energy systems. The right UK energy mix also requires a sustained, integrated engagement with Europe looking ahead to future generations.

A resilient electricity mix is sourced from various means of generation. These include the use of flexible gas power plants to top up a foundation of constant low carbon nuclear and carbon sequestered coal working together with intermittent and predictable renewable forms of generation such as wind and biomass.

Each has unique features in terms of developer attraction, capital cost, operational variability, as well as delivering the imperatives to be secure, affordable and low carbon.

Our electricity transmission networks are gradually responding to the need to accept a changing energy mix. Electricity entering the network must exactly balance the amount we use. Careful management of the system will ensure that predictable and less predictable variations are managed.

The next step is focusing on developing the UK’s capacity for energy storage. Issues to consider are: The capacity of energy to be stored and the rate at which that energy can be accumulated or released. By storing electricity during low price periods and releasing it again at peak times, this “time shift” energy storage can deliver revenue.

An example of a large scale technology includes a pumped storage hydro (PSH) scheme such as Dinorwig able to fill a supply gap in tens of seconds and recharges at times of limited demand allowing for major coal or nuclear plants to operate constant output.

Developing technology includes Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) using off -peak electrical energy to compress air into underground caverns. Small scale technologies include liquid air storage systems which support local distribution level electrical storage needs and Superconducting Magnet Energy Storage (SMES).

Energy storage needs to provide predictable revenue streams. Storage is an integral part of the solution of decarbonising energy networks but cannot be viewed in isolation.

Taking a holistic approach to the UK’s energy strategy involves ensuring new and immature technologies are aligned with governments and European investment.

Alan Thomson is director of Arup’s energy business.

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