Saturday, 17 March 2012

Caught between the Duracell™ and the Dinorwig

This week’s IMechE conference on Energy Storage for Electricity Networks was a dramatic tragedy of fine engineering thwarted by red tape. The anagnorisis: the tragic turn of fate, was when Prof David Mackay’s keynote address reckoned up the UK’s energy storage needs in terms of Dinorwigs. The Dinorwig is a loosely defined unit of energy capacity and delivery power, somewhere in the region of 1.8 GW and 11 GWh. That’s a lot.
The dream of Dinorwig set the theme for the event. Speaker after speaker followed, each with his own favoured storage technology to promote. Each one explained how his storage units were already capable of providing storage to serve a neighbourhood, or a small town, and that within a few years, they would be scaled to be worth measuring on a Dinorwig scale.
The tragedy is that the need for energy storage isn’t in a few years time: it’s now.
The tragic irony is this: that energy storage is needed most urgently at neighbourhood scale. That’s where the most unpredictable generation and the most irrepressible demand are. That’s where the electricity transmission infrastructure is in most pressing need of storage for supply smoothing: the local feeders that supply our homes, offices and schools. These local feeders desperately need storage for supply smoothing. Already, householders’ photovoltaic generation capacity often has to be switched off, because the local feeder can’t handle it the supply peaks. If each neighbourhood could have a moderate-sized store, so much more local renewable generation could be done, and so much fossil fuel could be saved.
The primary reason why neigbourhoods don’t club together to get a shared storage unit is that the UK’s electricity supply regulations don’t allow it. In a nation that’s publicly committed to decarbonization and energy sustainability, that’s something of a national scandal. If Ofgem would remove its red tape from local electricity markets, the engineers would be ready to deliver storage technology at the scale that we most need it at: somewhere between the Duracell™ and the Dinorwig.

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