Month: August 2020

Pumped Storage Hydro, COVID-19 and a Green Recovery

Pumped Storage Hydro, COVID-19 and a Green Recovery

The past 5 months, since the Covid-19 crisis hit the world, has provided a glimpse of what the future energy balancing challenges could look like in the UK.  With a 20% reduction in energy demand from the closure of businesses, coupled with the highest penetration of renewable energy on record (67% of generation coming from renewable sources in May), the challenge for National Grid ESO has been very real. 

These conditions have led to National Grid ESO issuing emergency powers to distribution  network operators (DNO’s), such as ManWeb, Npower, Scottish Power and the like, to disconnect embedded generation (typically distribution connected wind and solar farms) as a last resort to keep the lights on and avoid a situation like last year’s black out that affected large parts of the south of England. 

This reduction in demand, paired with high production from solar – with the sunniest spring on record – and solid wind production, has created a perfect scenario for energy storage, and a renaissance for Pumped Storage Hydro, in a bid to store this excess power.

Indeed, since the start of April, French company Engie who own the 1,800MW Dinorwig plant in Snowdonia, north Wales say they have pumped three times the energy volume during this time than it did for the whole of the period between April to September last year.

These conditions of low production from fossil fuel and nuclear generators, combined with a large penetration of renewable energy, mimic the future energy mix the UK is aiming for to meet its Net-zero targets. National Grid ESO has also predicted (in its Future Energy Scenarios document) that up to 38GW of energy storage will be required by 2050. We currently have 4GW of energy storage on the system. 

There is a pipeline of 4GW of PSH energy storage in the UK between SSE’s Coire Glas 1.5GW proposal, Drax’s extension of Cruachan (500MW), Glen Muckloch (100MW) and Glyn Rhonwy (200MW) in Wales, along with 3 PSH projects we are developing in Scotland (1.5GW+). The most advanced of these, Red John, is presently in the final stages of the planning process.

The much-delayed Government Energy White Paper will hopefully provide a timely boost for long-term energy storage like PSH. Ideally, this would take the form of a “cap-and-floor” mechanism, like those used to encourage construction of subsea interconnector cables from the UK to Norway. This would help offset the high capital cost of building infrastructure projects like PSH and also open the door for the investment and jobs these proposals bring with them. 

Our 3 projects alone will bring over 2 Billion of investment, with 70% of that being construction work. This would create thousands of Green Jobs to local companies, workforces and communities after the bombshell of COVID-19 and put the UK on target for the future Energy System needed to hit its net-zero targets. This would create a true ‘green economic recovery’ from the pandemic and a legacy to be proud of as the UK looks to take over the mantel of hosting COP 26 in Glasgow next year.

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