The NIC has called on the government to fast track flexible grid development - ministers should listen
Flexible grid technologies hit the sour spot of hugely complicated, massively important, and (whisper it) not a little dull. Consequently it is far too easy for policymakers, the media, and businesses to ignore one of the cornerstones of the net zero transition. As the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) highlighted yesterday, this would be a grave and potentially disastrous error.
As the Commission's new report makes clear the UK's progress towards essential net zero infrastructure remains decidedly patchy, even if there have been some encouraging steps forward since the election. One of the critical issues highlighted is the pace of deployment of flexible grid technologies - an arguably confusing umbrella term that refers to the suite of batteries, smart grid systems, demand response services, interconnectors, and even some green heat systems that all help to dynamically match power supply and demand.
As anyone who works in the clean energy sector knows such technologies are absolutely critical to grid decarbonisation. As more variable renewables come online - and they could eventually provide somewhere between 80 and 100 per cent of our power, depending on who you believe - the ability to store power and flexibly manage grids to match supply and demand is essential for both maintaining energy security and minimising costs. As a report from Cornwall Insight highlighted this week without reliable grid connections and flexible grid capabilities the controversial payments to wind farm operators to shut down generation at certain times will only continue.
The good news is that rapid progress is happening across much of the still fledgling flexible grid space. For example, this week alone Pivot Power has placed a massive order for new batteries to support its ambitious plans, United Utilities is moving ahead with plans for the water industry's first large scale battery, and Highview Power has pulled in more investment in support of its pioneering long term energy storage system.
But as the NIC makes clear this patchwork progress urgently needs to be turbocharged, while frustrating policy challenges remain all too evident. Brexit is creating uncertainty for interconnector operators precisely at the time when they should be steaming ahead with delivering plans for a northern European supergrid. Meanwhile, demand response and energy storage operators remain convinced - too often with good reason - that they are getting the rough end of the stick from the capacity market, network operators, Ofgem, and the energy policy regime as a whole.
The NIC today joins a raft of experts in arguing some relatively simple policy tweaks could significantly enhance the bankability of flexible grid projects and turbocharge the development of this critical sector. It is time the government flicked the switch.
A version of this article originally appeared in the BusinessGreen Overnight Briefing email, which is available to all BusinessGreen subscribers.