Recently, the UK government published its long-awaited Clean Growth Strategy, the document does not lack ambition and has been met with measured optimism from leading institutions such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth.

When assessing the potential impact of the strategy, it is important to highlight the key proposals. Firstly, the substantial investment it promises is prominent and perhaps the most impactful, as the document states that £2.5 billion will be invested to support low carbon innovation by 2021 and that £265 million will be invested in smart systems to reduce the cost of electricity storage, advance innovative demand response technologies and develop new ways of balancing the grid. In addition to this, there are less quantifiable promises to develop one of the best electric vehicle charging networks in the world.

The willingness to invest £2.5 billion in low carbon innovations has been widely praised as it is in stark contrast to the dramatic policy change announced in 2015, when The Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) cancelled the £1 billion carbon capture fund amidst an overall 22% budget cut for the department.

Since then, the UK government has experienced a change in leadership which dissolved DECC, combining its duties with the business department in another heavily criticised move, but this investment could indicate a newfound synergy between business and energy that helps both UK energy and UK business to become global and sustained leaders of their respective sectors.

This certainly appears to be the intention of the Clean Growth Strategy, as evidenced through its aim of the UK becoming one of the best places in the world for low carbon innovation. This is fuelled by a belief that for the UK economy to flourish, it must deliver things other advanced economies are unable to or at least perform activities in better ways. The government believes that decarbonising the UK economy will lead to the UK becoming a global leader in the industry which would create beneficial international partnerships and export opportunities.

However, despite the positivity surrounding the strategy itself, there are elements which are cause for concern surrounding the carbon budget. Carbon Brief, an award-winning website dedicated to the analysis of energy policy and climate change science has stated that the UK at present is set to miss its legally binding target of a 57% cut from 1990 baseline levels of greenhouse emissions for the fifth carbon budget over the period 2028-2032. The carbon budgets have been set following advice from the Committee on Climate Change so that the UK can achieve the target set in The Climate Change Act to reduce UK emissions of greenhouse gases to at least 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, the first carbon budget was met for the period 2008-2012. Startlingly this target was set in 2008 when the global goal was to avoid warming of more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels whereas the Paris agreement set a minimum target of “well below” 2oC in 2015 whilst aiming for 1.5oC, a target currently well out of reach for the UK. The publication of a Clean Growth Strategy that is sadly not aligned with the Paris agreement raises questions about the seriousness of the government’s commitment to it.

Aside from the carbon budget, the proposed investment of £265 million in smart systems to reduce the cost of electricity storage, advance innovative demand response technologies and develop new ways of balancing the grid is a promising development for the advancement of a decentralised electricity network.

A decentralised or distributed energy network is the opposite of the UK’s current traditional centralised network and refers to the process of utilising microgrids to generate local energy that maximises on renewables and energy efficiency. This concept is continuously gaining momentum due to increasing fears over the security of the energy supplied from the grid. This is because of the harsh statistics showing that blackouts or brownouts are becoming more frequent with a staggering 46% increase recorded in 2016 compared to the number of occurrences in 2015.

Investment into the aforementioned smart systems will help decentralisation become a widespread reality as distributed generation will enable energy sources to be more effective, secure and efficient, therefore encouraging greater adoption of the systems. In light of the decreasing security of supply, any move that is likely to help balance the ever-growing demand put on the National Grid is welcomed and the levels of investment are encouraging and a much-needed move towards improvement.

Arguably, there should be some scepticism surrounding this particular goal as it is unclear whether the investment is designed to improve the security of the network, or instead, merely prevent further degradation. With the increasing focus on clean energy, including the government’s recent proposal to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in the UK by 2040, the load on the grid is likely to increase to unprecedented levels. Therefore, any investment in technologies to help balance the grid may simply be a way of negating the foreseeable influx, consequently allowing the grid to operate at a level similar to that of the present day, rather than improving the service as a whole. In the absence of more detailed forecasts on how this money will be distributed, key milestones in place to measure the success of the investment, and predictions around the likely ramifications on the grid it is difficult to conclude how beneficial this investment will be.

Moving further into the proposal, the aim to develop one of the best electric vehicle charging networks in the world is encouraging. Coming in quick succession to the clean air strategy which proposed the ban on sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2040, this ambition shows that the government is serious about supporting the transition to an economy which relies on zero emission travel through electric vehicles, as it appears to be determined to implement the required infrastructure.

It is clear that the only way to establish one of the best EV networks in the world will be by investing in the introduction of more rapid chargers to the network and constantly innovating to ensure that rapid chargers continue to shorten their charging time in order to provide the required level of convenience consumers are used to from petrol/diesel filling stations. Increased innovation and investment into rapid charging will be particularly important as EV’s that have longer ranges and therefore require more power to charge enter the market, which is set to be as early as 2018 in the case of Tesla and Nissan.

At this point, it is worth mentioning that a decentralised network, in addition to providing the aforementioned benefits, also has the potential to support electric vehicles. To illustrate this a present day example can be provided:

If a commercial company has an electric fleet consisting of 20 vehicles, and these vehicles are
kept to tight 24-hour shift arrangements, it is vital that the vehicles are charged quickly in order to
meet the schedule. If all these vehicles are utilising 50kW rapid charges to quickly charge the
vehicles, you could get a scenario where 10 cars are charging simultaneously.

That totals a load of 500kW, which is a very large demand for the majority of storage warehouses and potentially large enough that the supply would need upgrading to tolerate the extra load. The process of increasing a company’s supply can be costly, often totalling in excess of £50,000.

If the local network is saturated (which is often the case) the supply upgrade could have a knock on effect upstream, which may even require the local substation to be upgraded, which would cost a considerable fee to upgrade (often exceeding £100,000’s).

However, by having local, decentralised storage, the need to upgrade does not exist, as the storage can charge during non-utilised times, as well being charged from local generation, and provide the power requirements to the chargers without pulling anything extra from the grid. This offers a way of supporting the expected substantial increase in demand for electric vehicles as a decentralised network has the potential to scale in proportion with demand for electric vehicles.

Whilst everything set out within the strategy is encouraging and almost admirable, it fails to set out the best course of action to support all the aforementioned activity other than to increase spending, which is encouraging to innovators and energy experts as it promotes development and innovation to solve the issues that the UK’s energy landscape is facing. This is what we as a company have challenged ourselves to do and what had led to the advent of our latest combined energy storage and rapid charging solution, VIRTUE EV.

To help businesses learn more about decentralised energy networks and the sustainable future that they can help create, Powerstar is hosting a seminar at its head office in Sheffield on the 5th December 2017. This seminar will explore the capabilities of decentralised energy and how a decentralised energy network can overcome the limitations of the current network. To book your place click here.

Not in the area? Don’t worry, we are also hosting seminars in Birmingham (17th January) and London (21st March). To book your place at one of the upcoming events, please complete the short form below.

Author Bio

Lewis Brown

Lewis Brown