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Scottish energy minister keen for joint UK storage strategy

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said he wants the United Kingdom to develop a joint storage strategy in order to stimulate utilisation of the technology.

The minister visited Scotland-based heat storage technology firm Sunamp yesterday to discuss how storage could help the UK avoid grid reinforcement issues and said he intended to develop a nationwide storage strategy with the help of his counterparts in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, which make up the rest of the UK.

Speaking to PV Tech Storage after the visit, Sunamp chief executive officer Andrew Bissell said there was a “really open door” for joined-up policy efforts and that he hoped the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) would be “happy to engage” with the efforts. He said minister Ewing had "highlighted that he is keen to work with UK government to develop a storage strategy".

While UK energy secretary Amber Rudd has spoken of her support for energy storage in the past, she has come in for some serious criticism after a raft of green energy schemes were culled as part of efforts to curb departmental overspend.

The UK’s Levy Control Framework – the mechanism used to control subsidies for renewable energy technologies – is currently set for a £1.5 billion (US$2.3 billion) overspend by 2020/21 and the government has had to act, cutting both the Renewables Obligation and feed-in tariff (FiT) support regimes in recent months. Just today, a proposed raft of changes to the FiT included cuts of up to 87% for some scales of renewables was announced.

Storage as an asset class

There have been arguments for storage technology to receive subsidy support given its potential to help solve some of the creaking UK grid’s capacity and frequency issues, but Bissell said he didn’t “necessarily see the need” for financial support, but instead said the UK government needed to better recognise storage as a viable technology.

“First of all we’d like to see an acknowledgement of storage – both electrical and heat storage as a terminal node – as being an important asset class in the electricity network infrastructure. And a really clear and joined up piece of thinking on how to make that storage work as an asset that can deliver all the things we know it can do in terms of demand side response and enabling more stabilisation of the national grid,” he said.

Bissell said the ideal scenario would be for the government to enact a “combination of policy and technology platforms” that would create an “underlining philosophy” to encourage storage development. “I don’t think we’ve yet had that signal fully from everyone which says this is the direction we’re heading in,” he admitted.

“What we need is to turn those words into a framework that actually works. At the moment there are a number of restraints and a number of things that can make it difficult within the legal and contractual frameworks. We need to clear away those kinds of hurdles.

“There are some obstacles – not huge – to introducing thousands of small heat stores and treating them as an aggregated resource. The trading arrangements are cluttered. They’re not wrong, but they’re not streamlined, and it would be good to see a policy framework that says we want to unclutter this so in the end any domestic customers – in the same way they can choose a FiT administrator for their PV – they should be able to choose a storage aggregation supplier and just pick a contract.

“We don’t see that today, we’re at a very early stage of the market, and I think government can steer that,” Bissel added.

Bissel also said that whilst he believed electric battery storage is beginning to be understood within Whitehall, the same could not be said for compact heat storage and how it differs from other technologies and, as a result, needs to be treated differently. “It’s partly up to us to get that message across, so we’re hoping to engage as fully as we can with the government to make sure they understand it,” he said.

Initial 3MWh deployment could help grid

During the visit, Bissell said it was confirmed that in conjunction with a wider scheme to install rooftop PV in 1,000 homes in Scotland's Falkirk, Edinburgh and Lothian regions, in an initial deployment around 700 Sunamp products totalling 3MWh of energy will be installed under the Scottish government's Local Energy Challenge Fund. The scheme supports small-scale demonstration projects for low carbon energy technologies.

Bissell said that as well as benefitting households by lowering their bills for heating and hot water, there will be system-wide benefits to the network. The controlled use of those systems will, Bissell said, create "a large pool of storage for demand-side response in grid stabilisation".

This article has been amended to clarify details of the Low Energy Challenge Fund programme.

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