Energy nightmare: Britain struggling to cope with transfer and storage of green renewables

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Energy nightmare: Britain’s network is struggling to cope with the transfer and storage from wind and other renewables

Energy nightmare: Britain struggling to cope with transfer and storage of green renewables (Image: GETTY)

The price of gas and electricity has rocketed by 54 per cent with average household bills set to reach £2,700-a-year in October. Yet despite generating significant amounts of clean power Britain’s network is struggling to cope with the transfer and storage from wind and other renewables.

Analysis shows the cost of replacing this lost energy with other sources was £124 million across 31 days in March. The wasted power could have kept the lights on in a city the size of Nottingham for a year.

The crisis – at a time the war in Ukraine exacerbates a global fuel crisis – has been described as a wake-up call.

Andy Willis, the founder of Kona Energy, said: “The West has been beholden to despots like Vladimir Putin for decades because of our inability to heat our own homes and keep the lights on without outside assistance. Clearly, that has to change. Boosting our energy security is now an urgent national priority, and doing that in a clean and cost-effective manner is the big policy question which will dominate politics for years to come.”

National Grid, the company responsible for the transmission and distribution of electricity and gas, says it delivers power to homes across the UK reliably and efficiently while working towards a clean decarbonised energy future. Its revenue was £14.7 billion in 2021. 

But the network is unable to cope with additional energy being generated and payouts are made to compensate companies producing green power, and further payments sanctioned to replace it from other sources.

On April 4 figures show £10,704,167 was spent replacing wasted renewable energy with other sources, usually from fossil fuel power plants.

Output is measured in megawatt-hours (MWh) – each being 1,000 kilowatts of electricity generated every hour. On that day alone some 36,369 was lost – enough to power 11,732 homes for a year.

Crisis: The wasted power could have kept the lights on in a city the size of Nottingham for a year

Crisis: The wasted power could have kept the lights on in a city the size of Nottingham for a year (Image: GETTY)

For the year between April 1 2021 and March 31 [2022] £1,134,296,208 was spent on so-called constraint payments.

Electricity generation from wind power in the UK has increased by 715 per cent from 2009 to 2020 – the “greenest year on record” for Britain, with record high levels of wind energy generation.

Yet as more wind farms and renewables connect in remote parts of the UK, the networks are unable to transfer additional energy.

Britain’s Build Back Greener strategy aims to decarbonise all sectors of the economy so it becomes net zero by 2050. 

The law has been changed to reduce emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels in what is described as “the world’s most ambitious climate change target”.

Wind power is one of the largest sources of renewable electricity in the UK and the Government included it in its Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution and in the energy white paper.

Office for National Statistics data showed Britain generated 75,610 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity in 2020 – 24 per cent of the total – enough to power 8.4 trillion LED light bulbs.

Writing in the Express Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said producing our own energy through wind, solar and nuclear would protect Britain in the future.

He added: “We’re going to ramp up cheap renewables that have collapsed in price, bet big on new nuclear, while maximising domestic production of gas in the North Sea.

“We’ll go further on offshore wind, cutting planning red tape to get new projects approved more quickly.

“But there will be days when the sun isn’t shining or wind isn’t blowing – so we need a reliable baseload to underpin this.

“After 30 years of neglect, we’re powering ahead with nuclear – both large-scale and innovative small modular reactors.”

Investment: 2021 was the 'greenest year on record' for Britain

Investment: 2021 was the ‘greenest year on record’ for Britain (Image: GETTY)

But across some parts of the network, wind turbines are producing more energy than can be processed.

Battery storage systems enable energy from renewables, like solar and wind, to be stored when there is excess power generation, and released to the grid when it’s needed, preventing waste and the costly process of turning off turbines.

Current rules assume batteries will discharge electricity at any time, which could overload parts of the network during windy periods. Additionally, permissions to build and connect these systems to the grid are painfully slow. 

Experts argue renewables and energy storage technologies can be the workhorse of the UK electricity grid, but without proper integration Britain will continue to rely on expensive gas fired power stations or alternatively nuclear energy which will take decades to build.

Kona Energy is developing a 500MW portfolio of large scale energy storage projects which it says is “critical to the UK’s net zero climate ambitions”.

Mr Willis said: “It sounds crazy but taxpayers are paying millions and millions of pounds to prevent renewable energy sources from working because the network is unable to cope with the additional energy they are supplying. 

“In March more than £120 million was spent on turning off wind turbines and other generators, replacing clean energy often from expensive fossil fuelled power plants.

“It’s not just the eye-watering cost of the shutdown, it’s the wasted energy that could have been produced had the wind turbines been allowed to turn. We estimate in March alone the wasted energy could have powered almost 130,000 homes for an entire year.”

Critics say the reason is a lack of battery storage assets, which are used to store electricity at times of high renewable generation and discharge at times of high demand, to keep the power on. 

Battery storage facilities can be built in less than a year but the companies making them have been told they cannot connect to the network for up to six years until major reinforcement work is completed to upgrade local capacity. 

Mr Willis said: “Batteries can store electricity when the wind is blowing, taking the pressure off the grid and allowing turbines to keep turning, then redistributing that energy when renewable generation is lower. It balances the system, reduces unnecessary cost and wastage, therefore bringing down the cost for the end consumer. 

“Current rules are not designed for the latest technology and it’s holding back innovative solutions which are ready to be delivered. 

“Network companies assume batteries will always be discharging energy even during high wind conditions, this is despite the fact batteries are incentivised to import energy during these periods. 

“What this means is that network companies state batteries cannot connect until major reinforcement works are completed to increase network capacity. This can take years. 

“We desperately need more clean, affordable and accessible energy – here is a solution to deliver immediate results.”

A National Grid Electricity System Operator (NB: CORR) spokesman said: “As Britain’s electricity system operator, we operate the system in the most cost effective way for the consumer, keeping capital costs as low as possible.

“We make constraint payments when it is more economical to temporarily reduce wind output than build expensive new infrastructure. To date, it has always been significantly cheaper to pay the constraint costs than build more transmission assets.

“We constantly analyse constraint costs versus the cost of building new assets, and are working with industry to reduce the impact of network constraints whilst building a greener electricity system.”

COMMENT BY ANDY WILLIS

The Government is pulling hairs in all directions to boost our energy security, and rightly so. The West has been beholden to despots like Putin for decades because of our inability to heat our own homes and keep the lights switched on without outside assistance.

Clearly, that has to change. With one hand the West is giving the Ukrainians billions in military and humanitarian aid, but that is dwarfed by the payments being made to the Kremlin for gas and oil. Fortunately in the UK we are not as reliant as others, but we are not immune from the global spike in demand and that has led to the crippling price rises we are seeing.

There has been a lot of commentary on what the problems are, but not nearly enough on how we actually solve them. Boosting our energy security is now an urgent national priority, and doing that in a clean and cost-effective manner is the big policy question which will dominate politics for years to come.

Sweeping policy announcements will dominate the agenda, but as is so often the case – the devil is in the detail. Take wind farms for example, it is a popular misconception that the turbines are forced offline due to high or dangerous winds. This is actually exceedingly rare, and on a far more common basis (almost daily), the bill payer is paying millions and millions of pounds to prevent these renewable energy sources from working because the network is unable to cope with the additional energy which they are supplying. Sounds crazy, right?

In March, over £120 million was spent on turning off wind turbines and other generators, replacing that clean energy often from expensive fossil fuelled power plants.

It’s not just the eye-watering cost of the shutdown, it’s the wasted energy that could have been produced had the wind turbines been allowed to turn. We estimate that in March alone, the wasted energy could have powered almost 130,000 homes for an entire year – that’s roughly a city the size of Nottingham.

The solution? It’s as simple as batteries. They can store electricity when the wind is blowing, taking the pressure off the grid and allowing the turbines to keep turning, then redistribute that energy when renewable generation is lower. It balances the system, reduces unnecessary cost and wastage, therefore bringing down the cost for the end consumer – you.

Current rules are not designed for the latest technology and it’s holding back innovative solutions which are ready to be delivered. At Kona, we are working on some of the largest battery storage projects in Europe, so we understand these delays better than anyone. What could potentially be finished in a year, is taking five or six. 

Network companies assume batteries will always be discharging energy even during high wind conditions, this is despite the fact batteries are incentivised to import energy during these periods. What this means is that network companies state batteries cannot connect until major reinforcement works are completed to increase network capacity, these works can take years. 

Even if batteries were to discharge during these windy periods, network companies have an armoury of tools at their disposal to prevent any unwanted consequences. This counterintuitive approach needs changing. We need to connect batteries to the system as quickly as possible.  

We’re calling on decision-makers to streamline the whole process. Energy independence is no longer an abstract hope, it is an urgent priority which needs some flexible and pragmatic thinking. Instead of focusing on unworkable and costly plans for various schemes or taxes, this is an issue costing millions of pounds a day which could be easily tackled. As a country, we desperately need more clean, affordable and accessible energy – here is a solution to deliver immediate results.

  • Andy Willis is founder of Kona Energy 



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