The Informer

This week's energy news headlines: Government is proposing a legally-binding target for restoring power following a major incident; A subsidy-free 260 acre solar farm in Wales has been declared the UK's largest; The system operator says a move to procuring its STOR balancing service on a daily basis is an important step transitioning away from fossil fuels.

  • Government plans legal target for major blackout recovery

    The Government is proposing to introduce a legally binding target to ensure supply is quickly restored in the event of a nationwide electricity failure.

    Although BEIS said a major incident similar to those seen in the US, South Australia and Argentina is unlikely, it is a “credible risk for our energy network” and important to prepare for a worst-case scenario.

    The proposed new ‘Electricity System Restoration Standard’ would require National Grid ESO to be able to restore 100% of GB’s electricity demand within five days and set an interim target of 60% of regional demand to be restored within 24 hours.

    BEIS said the standard will reduce restoration time throughout the country and ensure a consistent approach across all regions. BEIS stressed that significant work has been undertaken by the electricity industry to prevent widespread electricity failure and that the system operator has a range of tools to keep the system in balance. The National Electricity Transmission System also has protections to guard against faults and system-wide failures.

    Together with the industry, devolved administrations and Ofgem, BEIS has undertaken a review of the current regulatory framework for dealing with widespread electricity failure and a consultation has now been launched around the proposal.

    The move would see BEIS issue a legal direction requiring the system operator to comply with the agreed restoration time no later than 31 December 2026.

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  • UK’s largest solar farm energised

    A subsidy-free solar farm energised in Wales has become the largest in the UK, according to its backers.

    The Llanwern project developed by NextEnergy Capital covers around 260 acres near Newport and represents an investment of £43m.

    It has a generation capacity of 75 MWp, equivalent to powering an estimated 20,606 homes per year. and will also provide diversification income to seven local farm holdings.

    The solar farm was constructed during the Covid-19 pandemic and employed over 200 workers on site at its peak.

    An ecological management plan for the project was agreed in partnership with Natural Resources Wales, Royal Society for the Protection of Bird (RSPB) and other stakeholders including Newport Council. Ross Grier, Managing Director at NextEnergy Capital Group (NEC), said: “Building the UK’s largest subsidy-free solar farm in Wales, during a global pandemic is a great achievement for the team.”

    NextEnergy has also energised the 40MWp Strensham project in Worcestershire which covers around 141 acres.

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  • System operator hails balancing markets milestone

    National Grid ESO says it has achieved a key milestone in bringing balancing markets closer to real-time and accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels.

    The system operator is now procuring Short Term Operating Reserve (STOR), which provides an extra source of power in short bursts if supply and demand of electricity is out of balance, on a daily basis.

    Over 200 STOR units with a volume of 6.5GW pre-qualified to participate in the daily auction process, with 28 companies amounting to 2,918MW taking part in the opening auction.

    The requirements of the service – which was previously bought three times a year – remain unchanged, with a 3MW minimum volume and response time of within 20 minutes. The system operator is looking to procure 1,300MW every day through daily auctions run at 5am.

    The move to daily procurement has seen the development of an auction platform which enables providers to submit their bids up to eight days ahead of delivery. National Grid ESO said this will help encourage greater participation, increase competition and lower costs for consumers. “It’s anticipated that moving procurement of balancing services like STOR closer to real-time will help enable greater participation in the service, increasing competition and driving down costs for consumers,” it added.

    Meanwhile, National Grid ESO’s latest Power Responsive report, looking at developments in demand side flexibility markets in 2020, said Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) procured four times as many flexibility services as they did in 2019, highlighting the range of new market opportunities for demand-side providers.

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  • Wind turbine blade recycling “huge opportunity” for UK

    Development of at-scale recycling of offshore wind turbine blades in the UK could create as many as 20,000 jobs across the supply chain, according to a new report.

    The Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult is now calling for increased investment and a radical shift in research and development into wind turbine blade recycling. A report produced under the Energy Transition Alliance (ETA), a partnership between ORE Catapult and OGTC, with input from experts at the National Composites Centre (NCC) and the University of Leeds, said that wind turbines are in theory, up to 90% recyclable.

    However, as their blades are made from composites of resins and fibres they have proven challenging to break down, process and recycle.

    The report identifies 14 technologies that show promise for recovering blade materials but said further work was needed before they can deployed at scale, particularly around issues of environmental impacts, energy use and cost efficiency of techniques such as heat treatment of composites.

    It said there is a “golden opportunity” for UK companies to take a lead and pointed out that the global offshore wind industry will need to decommission some 325,000 blades by mid-century.

    Chris Hill, Director of Operational Performance at ORE Catapult, said: “We are on the cusp of a break-through composites recycling solution. The technologies exist, but to be viable, they require intensified investment and some new approaches to studying and addressing the remaining innovation challenges. “Engagement with the UK supply chain is the first step for us: recycling is only of benefit when the recovered materials have saleable end-products that prevent deployment of virgin materials.”

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  • Tidal power could mirror offshore wind cost reductions

    More Government support for tidal stream projects would be likely to lead to a rapid fall in generating costs similar to that experienced in offshore wind, a committee of MPs has said.

    In a letter to Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) emphasised the substantial potential of the tidal power sector to contribute to the UK’s renewable energy mix. The EAC said tidal stream technology could boost technology clusters in coastal locations, increasing inward investment and driving the development of specialist supply chains, which are principally UK-based.

    The committee believes the Government should look at an administrative strike price for Contracts for Difference round 4 which will allow tidal stream projects in development to proceed. The committee also said that despite the potential of tidal range projects, such as lagoons and barrages, many are stuck at the concept stage, without sufficient funding to undertake studies required to secure further backing to assess long-term viability.

    EAC Chairman Philip Dunne said: “Tidal power can offer numerous benefits and potential for the UK, which boasts over 7,500 miles of coastline and unrivalled resources to generate reliable power supplies without the vagaries of sunlight or wind.

    “While we appreciate the Government’s concern about the potential initial cost to the taxpayer to support early-stage tidal stream and tidal range structures, the benefits outweigh the costs. Support for tidal stream is likely to lead to a rapid fall in generating costs similar to, if not steeper than, the fall experienced in offshore wind. Tidal range projects are relatively cheap to maintain once the initial costs are paid off, offering – in the longer term – a potentially affordable contribution to make to the UK’s renewable energy mix.”

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