Britain is sending tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere because its electricity grid operator is prioritising gas-fired power stations over battery storage, Sky News has found.
National Grid Electricity System Operator (NGESO) has been dramatically under-using the battery storage available to it, skipping those cells and relying instead on other power sources, including fossil fuels.
Analysis for Sky News by Modo Energy, an energy data analytics platform, found that these decisions to “skip” available battery storage and fire up gas power stations created 71,000 tonnes of extra carbon emissions in the year to October alone – equivalent to the annual emissions of 44,000 petrol cars.
The revelation, which comes as ministers and delegates in Dubai near the conclusion of the latest round of COP talks, underlines the extent to which today’s power systems are struggling to accommodate new, green technology – with the upshot, perversely, of more carbon emissions than there should be.
Ben Guest, managing director of New Energy at Gresham House, which controls the single biggest fleet of battery parks across the UK, said that these lithium ion cells, dotted around the country, are part of the answer to how to eliminate carbon emissions.
The theory is that they charge when there’s more power being generated than is needed, and then send that power back to the grid when the wind isn’t blowing hard enough or during peak periods.
But, at present, Mr Guest said, National Grid is choosing to skip its batteries about 80% of the time.
“Unfortunately, it means if you’ve got to fire up gas [power stations] to provide that flexibility, they’ve also got to push something else off [the grid], and it’s invariably wind generation.
“So, we’re curtailing and paying to turn off perfectly good, renewable generation to a fairly significant degree.”
The problem with battery “skipping” has become more glaring in recent months, with hundreds of providers of cells bringing their batteries online and NGESO, which runs the power network, struggling to incorporate them into their systems.
The company’s director and chair, Fintan Slye, said there are plans to upgrade their systems as soon as next week to accommodate more batteries.
“There’s been a dramatic increase in the amount of batteries that we that we have on the system,” he said.
“We’re talking about moving from optimising maybe one or two hundred generators out there to literally thousands. So we’re changing how those systems optimise.”
It is one small aspect of the enormous challenge facing the UK in upgrading its power infrastructure to accommodate all the new renewable power and new technology designed to help steer the country towards carbon neutrality.
While the main net zero deadline isn’t until 2050, the UK has set itself the target of having a completely carbon neutral electricity system by 2035.
This is an incredibly ambitious goal – some argue nearly impossible – since today’s electricity system is built around a finite number of coal, gas and nuclear power stations (as well as a small amount of hydroelectric power), mostly located relatively close to where that power is needed.
Most of Britain’s potential renewable power, on the other hand, is located in the North Sea, where the best offshore wind resources are found.
One of the most immediate challenges facing the grid is how to connect those wind turbines with the cities where most of that power will be consumed.
Among the plans proposed by National Grid is a pylon route across East Anglia, but local are protesting, arguing that it should instead be routed via undersea cables down the coast and towards the Thames Estuary.
However, in an exclusive interview with Sky News, the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said time was of the essence.
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He has unveiled a range of plans in his Autumn Statement to speed up the process of grid construction and power connection.
“What we’re going to do is dramatically reduce the time it takes for things to get through the planning system,” he said.
Asked to provide a message for those who are protesting the construction of pylons locally, he said: “If we don’t do this, then as a country, we will have much higher energy bills in the future and much more volatile energy bills.
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“We’re going to have to quadruple the amount of electricity we generate between now and 2050.
“This is a massive pressure on the current grid, which was never built for anything like that.”
Shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, said the current state of the grid was not fit for purpose.
“We’re in a situation,” she said, “where if you want a grid connection, you’re told to go in a queue, and that you might get one at the end of the 2030s. That is not good enough, when we’ve got bills still close to record highs.”
They were taking part in an extensive report by Sky News into the challenge facing Britain’s national grid.
Written by: Newsroom