The importance of energy storage for delivering an effective deal at COP21

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Later this year, the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) will take place in Paris. Leaders from around the world are coming together with an overarching goal of creating a deal to support the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Key to the reduction of global carbon emissions is the transformation of our energy networks, by adopting cleaner, more efficient and smarter technologies.

With a swelling global population and the rise of the middle class in developing countries, the energy sector is under pressure to provide consumers with reliable sources of power, while in parallel lowering its carbon emissions. According to the World Energy Outlook published by the International Energy Agency, some 7,200 gigawatts (GW) of electricity capacity needs to be built to keep pace with increasing electricity demand while also replacing existing power plants due to retire by 2040 (around 40% of the current fleet). Delivering this scale of low carbon baseload power requires a ‘third industrial revolution’.

Energy storage has long been seen as a key enabler of a low carbon economy, helping to balance the grid by absorbing “wrong-time” energy from variable generation such as wind or solar.  Storage will also play an important role in the urban environment as cities continue to become smarter.  The latest United Nations population projections state that 4.9 billion people are expected to live in cities by 2030, from a global population of 8.5 billion people. Finding cheap, efficient, and reliable means of storing energy has long been the ‘Holy Grail’ of the energy industry, however, with the technological advancements and battery prices coming down year on year, storing electricity at utility scale is now a reality.

Developing top-level strategies

Earlier this year, the Global Apollo Programme to Combat Climate Change led by Sir David King and Sir Nicholas Stern identified storage and Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) as key components for delivering a low carbon economy, and called for US$150 billion to be committed to R&D over the next 10 years. Storage technologies have already been proven at utility scale with projects being delivered throughout the world, however many markets are yet to set out a clear strategy for integrating storage into their networks. If we are to make the transition to a low carbon, smarter electricity network, then COP must encourage governments to develop strategies for the deployment of energy storage.

In the UK, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords, the country's upper house of parliament, recognises that energy storage is a key component to improve resilience on the grid, and the new Secretary of State for Energy, Amber Rudd has publicly acknowledged that storage is required to make renewables viable. Energy storage demonstration projects have been funded by both the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and the regulator, OFGEM, including Europe’s largest lithium-ion battery trial at Leighton Buzzard, a fully automated 6MW/10MWh battery storage project. Despite these projects coming on stream, we are yet to see a roadmap or strategy from the government. By 2020, the UK has a legally binding target to achieve 15% of its final energy consumption through renewable sources. With the government cutting back on subsidising onshore wind and solar projects, renewables must be optimised with storage.

As we move through the third industrial revolution, governments must work together to develop clear roadmaps for developing and deploying solutions like energy storage that will  provide sustainable energy and value for money for consumers. COP21 is, therefore, a critical moment for establishing a cohesive strategy for reducing carbon emissions, by rapidly accelerating energy storage.

COP21 takes place in Paris in December. Image: Flickr user: greensefa.

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If we are to make the transition to a low carbon, smarter electricity network, then COP must encourage governments to develop strategies for the deployment of energy storage."

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