Energy storage planning regulations eased in bid to spur net-zero transition
The UK Government has moved to relax planning rules for large-scale energy storage arrays, in the hopes of speeding up the energy sector's net-zero transition and boosting investment in the sector post-lockdown.
Ministers at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) voted on Tuesday (14 July) to pass secondary legislation which will enable storage projects above 50MW to be developed in England. 50MW had previously been the limit for one cell, without approval from the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP) regime. As such, the UK’s largest battery project, currently under development in Wiltshire, consists of two 50MW cells.
In Wales, batteries with a capacity of 350MW and over have been given the go-ahead.
BEIS has also altered oversight on local planning frameworks, in a move that could decrease the application process from years to months for many smaller projects.
BEIS first began consulting on altering planning rules for energy storage projects in January 2019 but work to implement changes as a result of the evidence suffered a string of delays: the general election, Brexit, and, latterly, Covid-19.
Now, the Department believes the changes could not only enable more renewable generation with variable outputs to come online and to help with grid balancing as electricity demand grows, but to boost the economy after lockdown.
On the former, the UK already has the largest installed capacity of offshore wind globally, and is striving to triple employment in the sector over the next decade.
On the latter, investment in the global energy storage sector fell in the first half of 2020 for the first time in a decade, according to the IEA. The Agency is warning that energy storage uptake is now too slow to be aligned with the Paris Agreement.
"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," BEIS Minister 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."
As expected, the energy industry has responded positively to the policy changes.
National Grid ESO’s head of markets Kayte O’Neill 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."
National Grid ESO has claimed that the emergence and integration of new technologies mean that a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2025 would be feasible.
According to Gresham House’s chief executive Tony Dalwood, the policy changes will help the ESO to become more familiar with battery technology and firm up stronger long-term plans.
“Clearly, there are some challenges to be confronted in the short-term but we are encouraged by the government’s actions to increase the potential for investment in battery storage in the future,” Dalwood said.
“This is a big step in recognising that renewable power and carbon emission targets require a new approach to managing the electricity grid and that battery storage has clear advantages to support this objective. We will certainly see further investment coming into the sector as the cost of construction for battery storage projects is reduced.”.