Ireland’s energy storage potential

Curtailment of renewable generation is driving the case for energy storage in Ireland. While short on sun, the electrical storage market in Ireland could thrive given its ample wind resources and grid limitations.

“There is an urgent need for energy storage solutions in Ireland,” said James Tedd of the Electricity Supply Board (ESB), Ireland’s state-owned power utility, at the Energy Storage Update Europe conference held in London last week.

Tedd added that wind power is often curtailed to keep the grid stable. It is estimated that about 250 MW of wind power was curtailed during the early morning hours on December 1, causing Ireland’s wind sector to loose around €10,000 (US$10,935) in revenues. And this is the rule rather than the exception in the country’s renewable energy market.

Ancillary market services boom

Renewable energy systems in Ireland are allowed to contribute up to 50% of the country’s electricity mix in order to keep the grid stable. This is much higher than in other countries, Tedd told pv magazine. To achieve such high renewable energy penetration, a robust domestic market for ancillary services has been created, which in 2016 is expected to reach a total value of €235million (US$257 million) or about 15% of the Irish power generation market value, revealed Tedd.

“In the U.K. and most other European markets ancillary services make only around five to six percent of the total power generation market value,” said Tedd. “Add that the core business of utilities is nowadays challenged and it is easy to see how new opportunities exist in Ireland’s island electricity market,” Tedd told the conference.

To help Ireland realize 75% of non-synchronous penetration (variable generation) in its electricity system, EirGrid and SONI, which are Ireland’s two transmission system operators (EirGrid in the Republic of Ireland and SONI in Northern Ireland) have put in place a multi-year and multi-stakeholder program of work labeled the “Delivering a Secure Sustainable System” (DS3) Program. The DS3 Program aims to design new policies that incorporate new control center tools and practices for managing the electricity grid. Currently, there are 14 system services in DS3, said Tedd. These services concern electricity generators and other energy market participants.

Energy storage potential

Within this energy market landscape, there is a lot of room for energy storage development.

pv magazine reported in May that AES corporation, an independent power producer, is planning a 100 MWh battery array in Northern Ireland, which upon completion will be Europe’s biggest. The first 10 MWh component of the project will come online this month, according to AES.

A separate energy storage plant, which utilizes the flywheel technology, is also under development in Rhode, County Offaly in the Republic of Ireland and is expected to be operational in 2017 with a capacity of 20 MWh. The project is being led by Irish company Schwungrad Energie and the University of Limerick and has received funding from the Irish Government and the European Union.

“ESB is technology agnostic regarding energy storage systems,” said Tedd, who is project manager within the emerging energy technologies group of the company. However, we believe electricity networks need to become smarter and energy technology can help it.

Tedd added that batteries are already a mature technology and its scalability helps. “Power is the prime revenue source for most battery systems today and capacity revenues are key for low cost high capacity batteries.”

Concerning the sites for energy storage projects, Tedd said that substations are ideal but the problem is that distributed network operators are highly regulated. Demand side sites are also very good and very little of ancillary market payments today go to the demand side but this can change, especially if aggregation business models are enabled, he added. Attaching energy storage to existing and new power plant sites is also an obvious solution.

Nevertheless, high renewable energy penetration drives the need for flexibility in the electricity system and the key value today is for fast-acting response. However, in tomorrow’s world, value will also be on the intra-day storage markets, Tedd argued. For this to happen though, development of regulation is the key, he concluded.

Both the Republic of Ireland and the Northern Ireland have committed to sourcing 40% of their final consumption of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and the main bulk of it is expected to be generated by wind power. However, a report produced by KPMG consultancy and commissioned by the Irish Solar Energy Association foresees a potential nationwide solar sector reaching 3.7 GW by 2030 with just €670 million (US$733 million) of support.

In terms of solar, the Republic of Ireland is understood to be moving towards a solar support program, in the form of FITs. In Northern Ireland the British Government’s ROC subsidy program, under which more than 3 GW of solar PV has been installed, still applies and projects are likely to be developed even as the ROC scheme expires in England and Wales.

Edited by Jonathan Gifford