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Will Britain be left behind by energy storage?

The prospect of either a UKIP government or a UKIP Tory coalition after the general election in May, could spell disaster for Britain’s renewable energy industry as well as the energy storage industry within the UK. UKIP’s energy policy is built around climate change denial, and the party is planning to repeal the 2008 Climate Change Act if it gets into office. Likewise it will scrap all renewable energy subsidies and this will also bring a halt to Britain’s growing power-to-gas energy storage sector. While at the same time UKIP will push ahead with the dubious policy, of supporting the environmentally destructive shale gas extraction process known as fracking. (1.)

If this comes to pass, then the anti-environmental government in London would be not only following an unsustainable and regressive fossil fuel and nuclear energy policy, but also rejecting many of the technological developments – such as power-to-gas energy storage – that are now making renewable energy such as wind, tidal and solar power, a viable option. If the UK decides to move backwards in May and elects a government that is not committed to fighting climate change, then it will be moving in the opposite direction to much of the industrialised world.

The Energy Storage Expo and the International Renewable Energy Storage Conference which took place in Düsseldorf, Germany from 9th to 11th March 2015 presented many ideas of how climate change and energy sustainability problems can be tackled. It brought together companies and organisations that are already making a success of the energy transition to renewable energy with the help of energy storage. The ‘Energiewende’ or energy transition is not only a German or European energy policy, but also a global concept. There were stands in the exhibition hall of the Düsseldorf Messe from China, Canada, India, the United States as well as Europe. (2.)

China was represented at the Expo in Düsseldorf by the China Energy Storage Alliance (CNESA). In a brochure handed out by the CNESA it said: “The China Energy Storage Alliance (CNESA) is the first and only non-profit, member – based energy storage industry association in China. The CNESA promotes healthy renewable energy growth through the use of competitive and reliable storage systems. We work with the Chinese government to drive policies and spread awareness of the benefits that energy storage can provide to the grid. We also encourage communication and facilitate business between the government and the private sector, domestically and internationally.” (3.)

There are many opportunities for the UK to take part in the energy transition, as it no longer becomes economically viable or environmentally sound, to extract dwindling oil and gas reserves from the North Sea. People who previously worked in fossil fuel industries should be given the opportunity to work in the new renewable energy and energy storage sectors, as new infrastructure is built to harness the power of sun, tide, and wind. A city such as Aberdeen that up until now has serviced the oil and gas industry, should be given the opportunity to move to a different source of energy rather than face economic decline.

The UK was represented at the Energy Storage Expo in Düsseldorf, by the power-to-gas energy storage company ITM Power from Sheffield. ITM Power manufacture electrolysers that can convert electricity from renewable sources such as wind, tidal, and solar power into hydrogen gas. The electrolysers are an essential part of the renewable energy supply infrastructure, because they overcome the problem of peak supply and peak demand by storing the energy as hydrogen to create a battery in the grid. ITM Power has built an electrolyser that is being operated by the Thüga Group at a plant in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, which injects hydrogen into the German gas grid. The company is also involved in building the infrastructure for hydrogen refuelling stations, which will provide fuel for hydrogen powered vehicles. (4.)

Today ITM Power is at the heart of the British energy transition to renewable energy sources. Shortly after the Expo in Düsseldorf, it was announced on ITM Power’s website, that JCB (“J.C.B. Research and Valebond Consultants Limited, a company wholly owned by Jo Banford”) had invested £4.9 million in ITM Power. With reference to this investment in ITM Power, Lord Bamford, Chairman of J.C.B. Research was quoted as saying: “We are excited by the prospects of hydrogen technology and our investment in ITM Power. We expect to be an actively supportive shareholder in ITM Power and look forward to working with the Board and management team and to sharing some of our expertise in manufacturing and engineering.” (5.)

Although it was good to see ITM Power at the Expo in Düsseldorf, it was sad that British Industry did not have more participation at this energy storage event, considering that power-to-gas technology is key to clean energy, energy security, and the move away from fossil fuels in the fight against climate change. It would not have been a waste of tax payers’ money, if the Department of Energy and Climate Change had sent a couple of civil servants to man a stall at the Expo. At least it would have sent a message that the UK is serious about expanding the renewable energy sector and energy storage. The lack of interest from the British authorities can be contrasted to the wide participation by both German government and German industry at the event. For example the state of North Rhine-Westphalia was represented by its own energy agency: EnergieAgentur.NRW, which gave out a booklet at the event entitled ‘Wasserstoff – Schlüssel zur Energiewende’, (Hydrogen – Key to the energy transition). (6.)

If the British government does not create a positive space for renewable energy and energy storage, then these industries will expand in other countries but never get off the ground in the UK. One of the problems of UKIP gaining any political power after the May general election, would be the party’s hostility to renewable sources of energy, especially wind farms. A few years ago jobs were lost at the Vestas wind turbine factory on the Isle of Wight, due to the negative attitudes of those who want to stop wind farms being constructed. Opponents to wind farms bring out the old arguments that wind turbines are not reliable, without realising just how far the energy storage technology has advanced, which should now be part of the renewable energy system’s infrastructure.

In February 2015 it was reported by the BBC that the Isle of Wight factory of MHI Vestas Offshore, would be creating 200 jobs in May of this year, in order to manufacture the 80m (260ft) blades for a windfarm in Liverpool Bay. (7.) As UKIP wants to stop windfarm development around the coast of the UK, then not only would these jobs be threatened but also potentially jobs in the energy storage sector. For a company such as ITM Power the business environment would become more difficult: not just because an environmentally unfriendly government might hit renewables and energy storage, but also because of UKIP’s policy to pull the UK out of the European Union, as ITM Power is already a supplier to the energy sector in Germany. If this situation occured then Britain would be left behind by other countries less hostile to renewable energy and energy storage.









©Jolyon Gumbrell 2015

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