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View from Westminster: industry calls for subsidies to encourage energy storage projects are falling on deaf ears.

With a general election not far away, junior minister Amber Rudd MP was not able to give the energy storage industry what it wanted, but she talked a good game about the importance of its development.

Speaking at the Electricity Storage Network (ESN) annual meeting in Westminster, the parliamentary under-secretary at the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said she was happy for government to dip into the public purse to support technologies that help decarbonise the electricity grid.

But with a change of government looming, she stopped short of offering the energy storage industry the subsidy mechanism that it believes is essential for progress, preferring instead to trumpet the one-off bits of cash the government is giving out to individual, innovative projects.

DECC, for example, is helping Highview Power Storage to develop its technology. The company is developing a 5MW/15MWh liquid air energy storage system, and DECC has provided the funding. It will support the design and testing of a demonstration liquid air energy storage system alongside a Viridor landfill gas generation plant in the UK. In addition to providing energy storage, the liquid air plant will convert low-grade waste heat to power.

Highview's boss, Gareth Brett, made clear he is appreciative of DECC's help, but said the government needs to consider how the market can be driven forward in the future, including a subsidy mechanism. Storage, regarded by the IMechE as essential to efforts to balance supply of electricity from renewable sources to the grid without losing energy because of intermittent generation, has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, said the ESN, but still has a long way to go if its target of 2GW of storage by 2020 is to be met. A 2GW target would save Britain 120 million [pounds sterling] a year, and a 10GW target by 2050 could save 10 billion [pounds sterling] a year, said ESN. Setting a 2GW target would help to stabilise the output from 1,000 new wind turbines, it said.

Andrew Jones, managing director of S&C Electric Europe, said that the current business case for energy storage may yield 100MW of capacity, at best. By 2023, he said, there will be a "tipping point" at which storage will become a critical issue because of increased renewable energy capacity coming online, but little means of saving electricity generated intermittently or at off-peak times.

He said it is unsurprising that Rudd is unwilling to publicly back a subsidy scheme at this point. But he argued that something of that kind must eventually materialise. "There's recognition energy storage is needed. The government is backing it," he said.

Jones suggested that established battery technologies that can do the job should be invested in now, as well as cutting-edge storage schemes such as Highview's. "By 2023, there will be big problems on the network if we don't put the mechanisms in place to encourage storage soon," he said.

"We are trying to encourage energy storage," said Rudd. "But it is at an early stage." She said DECC has backed low-carbon generation to the tune of 200 million [pounds sterling] to develop technologies ranging from carbon capture and storage to bioenergy and offshore wind. The minister told the ESN gathering that energy storage is viewed as a key technology to "keep our energy system resilient and secure".
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Author:Hargreaves, Ben
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 1, 2015
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