There have been a number of changes to the energy market in recent times:
- Ever growing demand for energy;
- Closure of large centralised coal generating stations;
- Increase in renewable energy generation from intermittent and unpredictable sources, such as wind and solar;
- Long lead in times and uncertainty over new nuclear generating stations.
These factors all mean that the electricity grid network is coming under increasing strain. In response energy storage and gas peaking plants are rapidly being acknowledged as a viable and sustainable solution to support the growth in clean energy technologies.
Energy storage in basic terms is the absorption and release energy when required, thereby offering rapid flexibility during periods of fluctuating energy generation and demand. Gas peaking plants offer a similar service, albeit not as rapid as the storage of electricity using batteries and with greater environmental effects. Energy storage, and to a degree gas peaking plants, can help to decarbonise UK energy supplies and are consequently being branded as a key component in the UK reaching the target for emissions reduction under the Climate Change Act.
There have been recent publications by the Department for Business and Industrial Strategy and the regulator Ofgem highlighting the need for greater flexibility in the grid network as the energy supplies are decarbonised. There was also the Ofgem announcement in September that co-location of energy storage on commercial renewable energy projects would not affect Renewable Obligation Certificates. This highlighted that there could be a greater opportunity for the deployment of energy storage in this way.
The revenue streams, and stacking of these to maximise returns, are complex, particularly for energy storage projects. That said there is demand for the services offered by energy storage and gas peaking plants and this is forecast to continue into the future, attracting investors. Arcus have seen a rapid increase in the number of battery storage and gas peaking plant projects being progressed. In the past 12 months we have undertaken site search for 2 developers across most regions of the UK, managed the submission of 16 planning applications for battery storage and gas peaking plants (in both England and Scotland) and have provided layout design, air quality and noise assessments for a further 4 gas peaking plant sites. Many of these projects are still in planning at the time of writing but to date we have received 7 consents and 2 refusals (both of which have been appealed and we await the decision from the planning inspectorate).
From our recent experience on the energy storage projects there is, at present, little set out within either national or local policy which specifically supports the development of energy storage; policies within the NPPF are therefore most pertinent. The developments, generally with small footprints of less than 1 ha, are located in a variety of locations but all are positioned close to primary substations with adequate capacity. Those on brownfield, industrial sites are of lowest planning risk, subject to the necessary technical environmental assessments. However, many of the developments are in the open countryside, and even in the Green Belt, where policies for development within local plans are generally restrictive and strong cases need to be put forward for the developments.
The improvements in grid stability and security which these developments facilitate do carry significant weight and this has been tested by planning inspectors in a number of appeal decisions for battery storage projects. Furthermore the essential role that these projects provide for helping to integrate renewable energy generation facilities makes them consistent with UK energy and planning policies. These considerations all add weight in favour of energy storage and gas peaking plant developments but this needs to be clearly set out in application documents to help the planning officers with their planning balance exercise.
Given the new technology around battery storage the key challenge we have found is ensuring that planning officers and stakeholders understand clearly both the need for and the relatively benign nature of the facilities in environmental terms, particularly when compared to more conventional electricity generating projects. The uncertainty over the technology and limited precedent or experience within the Council can be a risk so clear and early engagement is important to ensure planning permissions are delivered in time to meet auction and other contract deadlines.
If you have energy storage or gas peaking plant projects that you are looking to take through planning please get in touch: