Europe, Government and Policy News, Pumped Storage Hydro

Opinion: Blackouts will be the new norm in UK without investment in energy storage

A major power outage across the UK last week that left nearly a million homes without electricity and disrupted travel across the rail network was triggered by failures at two large generating facilities operated by RWE, according to a press release from ILI Group.

Specifically, failures of Orsted’s 1.2-GW Hornsea offshore wind farm and the 727-MW Little Barford gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire caused the frequency of Great Britain’s power grid to drop to 48.9 Hz, far below the 49.5 Hz threshold. This caused the power cuts experienced by consumers.

“National Grid have described this as an ‘incredibly rare’ event, however blackouts have been predicted for years,” said Mark Wilson, chief executive officer of ILI Group. “Last year the Institute of Engineers in Scotland (IESIS) predicted just such events would happen. As we increase reliance on intermittent renewable power sources, such events could become the new norm. National Grid are supposed to have enough backup generators they can call on quickly for these frequency events, whether its battery generators, pumped storage hydro, or more conventional thermal generators.

“It’s clear going forward a greater capacity of these fast frequency response services will need to be available. Pumped storage hydro (PSH) is ideally suited to provide the fast, large scale, response to mitigate such events, and more PSH capacity will mean the risk of power cuts and disruption will be reduced.”

Former UK Energy Minister, Brian Wilson, said, “One way or another, there has to be back-up to the intermittency of renewable generation, and this creates a huge opportunity for UK industry. In Scotland, Pumped Storage Hydro — which provides 95% of storage around the world — is the obvious answer instead of relying on imports via interconnectors. Hydro power has served Scotland exceptionally well in the past and can do so for many years to come. This is an opportunity to give an established technology a new lease of life with huge potential benefits for the Scottish economy while at the same time helping to solve the inescapable challenges posed by reliance on renewable generation.”

ILI Group has over 2 GW of PSH in the pipeline, with their first 450-MW development, Red John at Loch Ness, currently in planning.