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Britain’s next government ‘must make energy storage an asset class’, says academic

David Cameron, current UK prime minister. Despite previously talking up its potential publicly, Cameron's Conservative Party omitted to mention energy storage in its election manifesto. The party also did not mention solar in the document. Image: UK Dept of Culture, Media & Sport.

An academic based in north east England has called on the UK government to give energy storage "its own asset class with accompanying rules for appropriate regulatory treatment" as well as investing in the technology in order to enable future energy bill savings.

Phil Taylor, professor of electrical power systems and director of the Institute for Sustainability at Newcastle University, is urging political parties to alter their energy policies in order to facilitate an increase in energy storage.

Ahead of the UK’s general election, all major parties have released their manifestos, however, almost all manifestos fail to even mention energy storage let alone recognise it as an integral component in the move to a low-carbon economy.

Taylor explained that short-term pledges from politicians would result in higher bills in the long-term. He said: “Energy price freezes are a temporary solution to a much bigger, long term problem that is also about energy efficiency, reducing energy usage, the UK’s carbon footprint and our dependence on fossil fuels. If the government is serious about cutting energy prices then it needs to address the bigger picture of energy usage through regulation, and upgrade UK energy policy and infrastructure to deliver a new model for energy pricing that addresses inefficiency and ways to save energy.”

Researchers at Newcastle University believe that energy storage can play an important role in reducing energy usage – especially from the National Grid, the organisation which oversees the network. Taylor added: “Energy storage is a potential game changer for how the UK prices energy. It can also provide many services to the grid to make the UK’s energy future more efficient, secure and lower in carbon emissions.”

Currently the UK offers no incentive scheme for installing energy storage, with the UK minister for energy confirming that the current government was not planning any framework of incentives for energy storage. Newcastle University's Taylor echoed the thoughts of many in the industry, saying that changes in market regulations, to recognise storage as an asset class could unlock the value storage offered. The UK is by no means alone in this, but at present due to market rules a storage device cannot be classified simultaneously for its application as a generation, distribution and supply source for power. Commentators have stressed that in many cases, the need for market redesign is more critical than any form of subsidy or financial support from above.

Taylor says that the UK could become an energy storage market leader but only if the government ensures that energy storage is made its own asset class to help it compete in the UK’s convoluted energy market. Taylor said: “If energy storage was given its own asset class with accompanying rules for appropriate regulatory treatment, it could offer significant benefits to the UK’s energy network such as balancing supply with demand, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and hedging against fluctuating energy prices that lead to fuel poverty.

“The next government should be making pre-emptive investments in our energy infrastructure, including storage, based on an anticipated future need as opposed to waiting until either the need arises or there’s a delay in the low carbon transition, and then suddenly trying to mobilise an energy deployment project. They must look beyond the next election and make long-term, carefully considered decisions about energy policy which can remain in place for periods much greater than our current electoral cycles.”

Taylor concluded: “Countries that decarbonise the most rapidly will likely look more attractive for inward investment and places for businesses to setup. If the UK invests in energy storage now it will promote job creation, social development and the economy for years to come. As carbon becomes more expensive the investment in energy storage infrastructure will make the UK more competitive internationally.”

Markus Hoehner of EUPD Research and the International Battery and Energy Storage Alliance (IBESA), explained why he feels energy storage in the UK will continue to develop irrespective of government intervention. He said: “I think everyone is feeling right now that without storage there will be no higher rate of renewable energy. So it is not a question of ‘if?’ it is a question of ‘when?’”

Hoehner was speaking at the recent Energy Storage UK 2015 event, which he pointed to as proof that the UK market was beginning to show signs of traction. He noted that attendees discussed “finance, access to finance, equity, bankability, technological aspects; and downstream stuff”.

Tags: opinion, academic, britain, solar-plus-storage, power generation, distributed generation, grid stabilising, regulatory, policy