Andy Willis, Founder Kona Energy explores…
Improved energy independence in the UK has moved from being an abstract hope to an urgent national priority. Twinned with our net zero ambitions, that presents a uniquely challenging situation for policy-makers in both the short and long term.
What is happening in Ukraine has appalled all of us and it feels uncomfortable to discuss our own problems in the face of such barbarism, but the cold reality is already biting with energy prices skyrocketing leaving millions of families concerned for their futures.
Pointing the problem out is simple, delivering constructive solutions is not. That’s what we are attempting to do at Kona Energy with our battery storage systems for renewable energy sources.
It’s a popular misconception that wind turbines are forced offline due to high or dangerous winds – that is exceedingly rare and only happens in exceptional circumstances. On a far more regular basis, almost daily, is the turbines being stopped because the network is unable to cope with the energy which is being produced.
Not only do the bill payer (you and I) have to pay for the turbines to stop turning, there is also the wasted energy that could have been produced if the network could accept it.
Numbers are released on a daily basis which our recent #WastedWind campaign is based on. For example, on the 9th of March £15,486,033 was spent on turning off wind turbines (other sources make up a tiny proportion of this figure). The wasted energy was 40 827 MWh, which could power 13,170 homes for a whole year.
How do we solve this? If that money and energy could be redirected, millions of people would feel the benefits.
Battery storage assets are used to balance supply and demand on the network. By storing electricity during times of high renewable generation and discharging at times of high demand, batteries ensure that the lights stay on in a clean and cost-effective manner.
As well as balancing the increasing influx of renewable energy connected to our electricity system, batteries play a critical role in ensuring grid stability. The National Grid operates at a frequency of 50Hz which is driven by the fact that historic power station (coal, gas, nuclear) turbines spin at 50 times a second.
As the UK transitions away from big traditional synchronous generators to a more renewables led system driven not by turbines but power electronics, the inertia of the system decreases, meaning it is harder to manage and maintain grid frequency. The frequency must remain stable at 50Hz and a small increase or drop of just 1% can result in damage to National Grid equipment or even worse blackouts. If there’s a sudden influx of electricity generation, frequency rises, and if there’s a sudden demand for electricity the frequency will fall. A classic example of this is the rush to put the kettle on at half time of a major sporting event.
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The National Grid have to maintain this frequency in real time, ensuring the frequency does not deviate too far from 50Hz. Traditionally to maintain system frequency, National Grid would instruct large thermal generators to either increase or decrease their turbine speed to manage frequency. As these older plants have retired, National Grid has turned to battery storage technology.
Batteries can react to frequency changes incredibly fast, it can be a matter of milliseconds and up to 20 times faster than traditional generators, ensuring National Grid can maintain system frequency in a cost-effective way. This means National Grid do not have to instruct thermal generators to run when there is low system inertia, for example a low demand, summer’s day, when there is a high penetration of renewables on the system. Batteries can provide this service, acting as the shock absorber and ensuring the lights stay on.
Grid scale battery storage assets are often likened to a Swiss army knife, having the ability to provide multiple services to electricity system operators and ensuring a lower cost across multiple markets to the end-consumer.
Current rules are not favourable for these systems and we are in the process of working with leading politicians and officials to make the process of installation as easy as possible.
Kona has several ongoing projects and with renewable energy more valuable than ever, we are anticipating significant growth.
The National Grid estimate that the UK battery storage market is expected to multiply 40 times in the next 30 years – a remarkable projection.
If we are to realise our net zero ambitions and also improve our energy security, battery storage will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role.