The UK government has announced the relaxation of planning laws to make it easier to construct large batteries for the storage of renewable energy. The UK Energy Department BEIS (department for business, energy, and industrial strategy) hopes that the change in the law will triple the UK’s energy storage capacity.
The UK currently has more than 13.5GW of battery storage projects in the pipeline, with 1.3GW ready to build, 5.7GW with planning permission and a further 6.5GW proposed. The solar industry has welcomed the move to exempt large-scale energy projects from the national planning scheme. Planning laws had threatened to stifle a nationwide battery boom. The new policy gives a significant boost to a fast expanding economy by allowing developers to avoid all the red tape and higher costs associated with finding your way around the national planning system. Previously, planning laws could add 18 months to a project’s development time frame as well as increasing the costs. Electricity storage with a capacity of 50MW or more except pumped hydro has been removed from the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects regime in England and Wales. These batteries could not only help the UK to make the most of its renewable energy resources but could help it to work towards its climate targets.
Following a consultation in January 2019 the government proposed keeping the planning laws in place for battery storage which led many developers to limit standalone projects to 50MW and also impacted co-located generation and storage projects. However, by October of the same year listening to warnings from the industry that investment would be stifled, and costs driven higher they decided to reverse their decision.
Large-scale battery developers will now be able to apply for permission to build their energy storage projects using local planning rules, which are faster and not so difficult to manage. Progress through the Town and Country Planning act for projects over 50MW should now only take between eight to sixteen weeks.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the minister for energy and clean growth, said:
“The key to capturing the full value of renewables is in ensuring homes and businesses can still be powered by green energy even when the sun is not shining, or the wind has stopped blowing.”
The government admitted in a statement that its previous rules had actively deterred developers from making ‘bolder investments’ in battery storage adding that the new policy could support the rollout of storage cells that are five times bigger than those currently used.
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Kwasi Kwarteng said:
“Removing barriers in the planning system will help us build bigger and more powerful batteries, creating more green-collar jobs and a smarter electricity network.”
In the future, batteries are expected to play a far greater role in the UK energy system as the UK relies more on renewable energy and flexible energy use to help balance the grid without the use of fossil fuels.
Batteries could have a very positive impact for the UK by helping to save the National Grid’s electricity system operator (ESO) up to £40bn by 2050, which would mean less pressure on household energy bills.
Kayte O’Neill, the head of markets at National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), said:
“How we operate Great Britain’s grid is changing, with record levels of renewable sources generating our power. Storage can help us make the most of this green energy, using it to manage peaks and troughs in demand and operate the electricity system as efficiently as possible, keeping costs down for consumers too.”
The Electricity Storage Network also recognised the importance of this change seeing the potential for developers to save time and money as well as giving them the incentive to plan more ambitious storage projects which are vital to decarbonising the UK’s electricity system.
Madeleine Greenhalgh, policy lead at (ESN), said:
“This is a significant, positive and well-timed decision from the government; encouraging larger storage projects to come forward will add more jobs and economic benefit to the green recovery.”
Chief executive Chris Hewett of the Solar Trade Association (STA) one of the many companies and organisations who welcome the new policy, thinks that the next steps to unlocking the potential of energy storage, is to provide greater access to flexibility markets, including the capacity market, and applying fairer network charging rules.
Jake Dunn, renewable development manager at the leading European energy company Vattenfall, said:
“The UK will never be free from fossil-fuels until electricity storage is part of our energy system, but the volumes of power we need to be able to store are huge. However, it’s crucial that storage is co-located at solar and wind farm sites, due to the significant logistical and cost benefits that co-location offers for grid connections and land.”
The renewable energy industry understands that the planning law changes are vital and is ready to embrace the future with added vigour realising that there is still much to do in order to fully decarbonise.
Renewable Energy Agency policy head Frank Gordon added:
“Whilst this is a positive development, we must remember that there are a matrix of changes that need to be made to the way our grids and energy system are managed if we are to fully decarbonise. We welcome other recent announcements to this end, including the regulator’s proposal to increase the allowable spending by the Electricity System Operator so that they can develop their control room to fully capture the benefits of a more local and dynamic system.”