Can energy storage help UK meet carbon reduction targets?

As part of the planning process for energy storage developments, we are required to justify the environmental benefits of such facilities.

While there will always be concerns about the impact of any new development, particularly if the scheme is in an open countryside location or in the green belt (as they often are), such schemes can provide significant environmental benefits.

One of the main benefits of the grid balancing services provided by energy storage is the reduction in carbon emissions.

Reducing carbon emissions in the UK

Through the 2008 Climate Change Act, the UK was the first country to introduce long-term, legally binding national legislation to tackle climate change. The Act provides the UK with a legal framework including a 2050 target for emissions reductions, five-yearly ‘carbon budgets’ (limits on emissions over a set period which act as stepping-stones towards the 2050 target), and the development of a climate change adaptation plan.

A review of the UK’s 2050 target (previously set at 80% reduction) by the Committee on Climate Change prompted the Government to set a target of zero net emissions by 2050, which was legislated for in 2019.

This was followed in December 2020 by the UK government announcing a new ambitious target to reduce UK emissions by a least 68% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels. Recognising the urgency to go further to tackle climate change, the UK’s new target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – our Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) under the Paris Climate Agreement – is among the highest in the world and commits the UK to cutting emissions at the fastest rate of any major economy so far.

National planning policy and carbon reduction

At a national policy level, the National Planning Policy Framework recognises the need to meet the challenge of climate change as set out in Chapter 14 of the Framework. The NPPF recognises that radical reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are essential and looks to support renewable energy and low carbon development where its impacts are, or can be made, acceptable. So, there is overwhelming support at a national level for renewable energy development, and a demonstrable need for the UK to continue to deliver low carbon energy projects.

How energy storage can help

The low carbon credentials of energy storage have been well established. Each MW of installed battery storage capacity saves the equivalent of 314 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. This means a 49.5MW energy storage development can save 15,543 tonnes of CO2 per year.

To put this in terms people can understand, the average UK diesel car emits 5.76 tonnes of CO2 per year. Therefore, each installed MW of battery storage capacity is the equivalent of taking 27 cars off the road per year. In the case of a typical 49.5MW development that is the equivalent of taking 1,250 cars off the road each year.

These figures are based on one ‘cycle’ for one hour per day (charging and discharging). In reality, most storage facilities will operate two cycles per day, which will double the CO2 savings outlined above.

Can energy storage deliver net gains in biodiversity?

Energy storage schemes have an obvious requirement for land. Where they cannot be delivered on brownfield sites, they are often sited on greenfield sites in areas where they can easily be connected to the grid.

In many cases energy storage schemes are delivered on sites made available by famers and landowners. Here, they often utilise grassland that has already been intensively farmed and, hence, is of a low ecological value.

This presents an opportunity to deliver net gains in biodiversity through new tree and native hedgerow planting that is used to screen the developments and lessen their visual impact. This creates new habitats for a range of wildlife, including birds, small mammals, and insects, including pollinators.

An overwhelming case for energy storage?

With the closure of thermal generation plants, the National Grid is experiencing a reduction in system inertia, which will continue as more fossil fuel powered generation capacity is retired. At the same time, high volumes of intermittent renewable generation (mainly wind and solar energy) capacity have been installed onto the network.

In response, the National Grid needs to procure more grid balancing services from third parties to help them manage the supply and demand of electricity across their network and ensure constant power supplies for all electricity users.

So, while energy storage developments do not in themselves generate energy, they are a vital form of low carbon energy development due to their ability to store and balance intermittent forms of energy we are now generating in high volumes. The social, economic, and environmental case for energy storage is therefore overwhelming.