Thursday, April 11, 2024

Are summer climate practicalities impacting on UK decarbonisation efforts?

We all understand the threats to power supply during the colder months, but pressures on energy infrastructure in summer represent a new concern for UK businesses.  Richard Kerr, Head of Marketing at Powerstar, considers the issues facing British companies as summers get hotter, and looks at battery energy storage as a means to maintain power resilience while working towards Net Zero.

In their latest Progress Report[1], published at the end of June, the Climate Change Committee highlighted the growing issue of heatwaves,

“For many in the UK, 2022 was the year that climate change arrived, with the UK’s first ever 40°C day. It was the UK’s warmest recorded year and one of the six warmest years on record globally. The record-breaking temperatures seen in the UK in summer 2022 brought unprecedented numbers of heat-related deaths, wildfire incidents and significant infrastructure disruption.”

When UK temperatures exceeded 30°C for the first time this year – in the same month the CCC Report came out – the National Grid ended the country’s longest run of energy supply without coal-fired generation, requesting that Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station be brought on line to ensure secure supply.  There were several factors behind the decision to fire-up the power plant: low wind generation, planned maintenance at Torness nuclear power station which cut available generation by 1.3GW, together with a fault on the 1.4GW North Sea Link interconnector where repairs reduced power flow by half. 

But an additional strain – relatively new for the UK – has come from the increasing demand for air conditioning.  As climate change continues to impact weather conditions, the UK will experience more extreme heat, with the duration of heatwaves more than doubling from a historical average of five days to a current average of 13 days.  All of this drives the growth in air conditioning, and government research[2] indicates that the likelihood of demand for cooling will increase overall UK power consumption by 15%.  The IEA point to a cycle where emissions increase temperature, leading to greater demand for air conditioning, whereby more carbon emissions are generated, and Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director states, “Growing demand for air conditioners is one of the most critical blind spots in today’s energy debate.”[3]  This clearly impacts on UK Net Zero ambitions, exacerbated by drops in wind-generated power when high pressure weather systems create the heatwaves that lead to this increased demand for air conditioning. 

For this June, bringing Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station online maintained UK energy security.  One of several plants to have its lifespan extended after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to help avoid winter blackouts, this and other coal-fired plants are scheduled for shutdown by September next year.  As part of the country’s Net Zero ambition, these shutdowns should be welcomed.  But, as British summers get hotter, the impact of climate change is leading companies to manage their own strategies for power resilience and carbon emission reduction.  In April, a study canvassing more than 1,500 UK businesses found that almost 75% are concerned about climate impact for the next decade[4], with more than half already reporting disruption to business due to extreme weather events such as flooding, storms, and heatwaves.  A third of UK companies have invested in mitigating climate change impacts – 30% spending at least £100,000 and 10% spending over £1 million – with climate protection strategies focused on reducing carbon emissions (44%), setting Net Zero targets (32%), and investing in environmentally friendly technology (32%).

Where companies are looking to reduce carbon emissions and maintain power resilience, battery energy storage systems (BESS) are proven technology, supporting Net Zero strategies across diverse sectors including food and drink processing; health services; high-value and high-volume manufacturing; data centres; retail, and leisure.  And, where the Grid is now under greater pressure in summer, the power resilience that BESS offers is helping businesses to mitigate climate-related issues during hot weather, reducing carbon emissions while providing business-critical resilient power.

Given that energy security is a pressing issue, many companies already rely on uninterruptible power supply (UPS) technology, to protect vital equipment in the event of disruption to Grid supply.  However, traditional UPS will largely sit idle while consuming energy, switching from AC to DC and losing up to 15% capacity.  For a typical 1MW system, this means around £200,000 unnecessary annual energy spend and significant carbon emissions.  A modern BESS can offer site-wide energy protection, providing emergency power in the event of disruption either until Grid power resumes or until back-up generation is brought onstream, while losing only one percent capacity.

Some businesses already factor renewables into their own site’s energy mix, largely through solar PV, and the harnessing of solar-generated power may be a micro-level response to heatwaves across the UK.  While solar energy can only cover a small percentage of the country’s energy demand, the capacity to store on-site generated solar power to a BESS for use when needed means that companies can maximise solar assets, storing energy as generated to be used either at peak times or when there is any disruption to Grid supply.  Taken in isolation, solar arrays are not a particularly efficient solution for on-site power generation but, when deployed in tandem with BESS – which stores the energy generated during sunny conditions for use when most commercially and operationally beneficial – investment in solar and BESS can help companies maintain power resilience while also working towards Net Zero targets.

For one client, an organisation that was looking to protect critical data from Grid disruption while also managing their existing 100kW solar array, Powerstar’s 250kW BESS installation has provided energy security – including site-wide backup for 2 ½ hours at peak load – while managing the power from their solar infrastructure to maximise the generation from their renewable investment.  For another client, in the healthcare sector where UPS is absolutely critical and the demand to decarbonise has strict and pressing targets, Powerstar’s BESS installation was called upon twice in one day, with the new system supporting the full load in each instance.  This new BESS installation has eliminated nearly 200 tonnes of CO2e annually for the Hospital Trust,  while saving about £225,000 in energy costs when compared with the cost of running traditional UPS systems.

Ultimately, the pressure of climate change and hotter summer months will increase demands on the Grid, potentially hampering nationwide Net Zero strategies whenever coal-fired power plants are brought back into play.  That said, companies can take control of their own sustainability plans and ensure their own power security, utilising modern energy efficient technologies.

For more information about the critical aspects of the Energy Trilemma: affordable, secure, and sustainable power, read Powerstar’s whitepaper here. Or contact us:

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