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Storage

To overcome the major issue of intermittency, large scale storage is needed. The energy stored can be used at times when there is not enough power available from other sources - during a wind lull, for example.

At present the National Grid's storage options comprise the following:

  • Battery
  • Compressed Air
  • Liquid Air
  • Pumped Hydro

These store electricity as gravitational energy, as electrical potential energy or by changing the state of a substance.

Some of these storage types have specific constraints or limitations. For example, pumped hydro is limited by the shortage of suitable mountains in Great Britain in general, and in England in particular. (Note that many pumped storage locations in GB have already been closed.)

More details of each of these are included later on this page.

Two other options are being implemented:

For both of these the technology involved is at an early stage of implementation, and large scale deployments have not yet been achieved. Click on either to link to our pages with more information.

The National Grid is relying on storage and interconnectors as the cornerstones of its approach to dealing with the intermittency of renewables.

It is vital that there is enough stored energy with enough power to ensure that GB can "plug the gaps" in any weather and wind patterns that GB experiences.

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Battery

The National Grid figures include a significant increase in battery storage, with a storage capacity increasing from around 1 GWh now to 56 GWh by 2050. This means that a total of 8 GW of power could be supplied for about 7 hours if the storage were fully charged at the outset.

In November 2020 it was announced that InterGen have permission to build the UK's largest battery storage facility in Essex. Its storage capacpity will be up to 1.3 GWh.

Materials

The battery technology that is currently used for such stationary batteries is primarily lithium-ion. As referenced here, a shortage of major materials for such batteries is anticipated.

Perhaps the most significant issue with battery storage that can provide for the frequent and extended lulls in renewable energy generation in the UK is the amount of lithium and other materials that would be required and the space needed for the huge batteries. The Stocking Pelham battery in Hertfordshire comprises 150,000 lithium-ion cells and occupies 4,500 square metres, but only has a maximum storage capapcity of 50 MWh, i.e. it can provide 50 MW for 1 hour.

Over the next few years the growth in battery storage needs to accelerate..

The availability of lithium and other materials could be critical for GB to maintain its battery storage capacity growth targets..

Compressed Air

The National Grid figures include a significant increase in compressed air storage in some scenarios, with a total storage capacity increasing from under 20 MWh now to 32 GWh by 2050.

No significant increase is forecast for the next few years.

Liquid Air

The National Grid figures include a significant increase in liquid air storage in some scenarios, with a total storage capacity increasing from about 20 MWh now to 15 GWh by 2050.

No significant increase is forecast for the next few years.

Pumped Hydro

The National Grid figures include a significant increase in pumped hydro storage in some scenarios, with a total storage capacity increasing from about 38 GWh now to almost 99 GWh by 2050. The maximum anticipated power is 4.7 GW, so if the pumped hydro storage were fully charged at the start of a period and it were used at maximum power evenly it would last something over 20 hours.

No significant increase is forecast for the next few years.

Capacity

Excluding Vehicle-to-grid and Hydrogen storage, the National Grid figures indicate a maximum total storage capapcity in 2050 of a little over 200 GWh with a maximum power of around 40 GW. Averaged out this would provide 20 GW of power for about 10 hours.

Note - of course - that each of the storage sub-types is limited in terms of the amount of power that can be provided at any point in time (peak power).

Whilst this amount of storage might resolve short term supply issues, it would not solve the much more serious issue of extended lulls in the wind and dark nights.