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UK energy storage competition: Far too little, far too late

Tue, 11/05/2013 - 15:40 -- Editor

After months of delay, the UK Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) finally announced the winners of its Energy Storage Technology Demonstration Competition on 4 November.

The two winners are:

·      REDT, which plans to install a 1.2 MWh vanadium redox flow battery and connect it to a wind turbine in the Scottish island of Gigha (£3.6m/US$5.7m funding);

·      Moixa Technology, which has developed small lithium iron phosphate battery storage units to be installed into homes (£1.5m funding).

Three other projects received research grants:

·      Kiwa GASTEC at CRE, to investigate safety issues surrounding the use of hydrogen as an energy storage vector (£400,000);

·      Sharp Laboratories to develop and scale up a new battery technology for residential and community energy storage systems (£396,541);

·      EA Technology to develop a Good Practice Guide on electrical energy storage for use in the UK electricity networks (£104,325).

BEST calculates the total allocation of all projects in DECC’s energy storage competition (including Phase I) is £8.2m, less than half the £20m available for the scheme. Compared to what other advanced nations are spending on energy storage, the sums being spent on this UK competition are derisory.

More importantly, however, the winning technologies are old hat. The keener-eyed among you will notice that neither vanadium redox flow batteries nor domestic lithium iron phosphate battery storage units are particularly novel developments.

Vanadium redox flow was patented in 1986, although DECC says the application of a flow battery to a wind is innovative. Well, that may be the case in the UK, but several such projects have been installed around the world in the past decade.

It’s a similar story for Moixa Technology’s scheme to install 1 MWh of energy storage in 750 locations. Lithium iron phosphate batteries in a cabinet are commercially available in many nations, including the UK.

Anthony Price, director of the UK Electricity Storage Network, is not happy. He took to Twitter to vent his spleen:

“With proper #electricitystorage renewables can move forward even further.  Time to support a market mechanism for #2gw2020,” he wrote.

“Without giving #electricitystorage its own market category, we'll pay £120m more per year for our energy by 2020 #2gw2020,” was another Tweet.

At least this time around the UK did not claim, as it so often does, to be a world leader in energy storage. It likes to call itself a world leader in offshore wind on the grounds of largest capacity installed, yet almost all the manufacturers involved are non-British.

The plain truth is the UK is never going to be a ‘world leader’ in energy storage and neither should it try. It is highly questionable whether DECC should implement a subsidy regime for storage because, as with offshore wind, the benefits to UK manufacturers would be very limited indeed.

True, a subsidy regime may be of benefit to project developers such as S&C Electric, which has its European headquarters in the Welsh city of Swansea. But not even S&C Electric is asking for subsidies.

What it is asking for is a change in the regulatory regime that, just as has occurred with FERC Orders 784 and 755 in the United States, rewards participation in the grid balancing market. Sadly this is nowhere to be seen in the UK.