David Blackman interviews Mark Simon for Utility Week

The government should create a new flexibility mechanism to help the grid to deal with rapid fluctuations in demand, a battery owner and operator has said.

Mark Simon, chief executive of Eelpower, told Utility Week that a flexibility market is required in order to help keep supply in balance while cutting emissions in line with net zero by 2050.

He said the existing capacity market had been “very effective” but was not sufficiently tailored to the specific needs of the storage sector.

Simon said, referring to figures produced last year by Imperial College London in a report for generator Drax, that the UK needs to develop 30GW of electricity storage capacity in order to underpin the increasing reliance of its energy system on variable renewable generation.

Noting that the fluctuation in daily demand for electricity on low wind speed days during the winter could be as great as 120GWh, he said: “No-one is going to build that, they would be mad to, but we need a quarter of that.”

The new mechanism could operate as a more tailored version of the capacity market, providing “policy support” for assets that could respond swiftly and ramp up supply when required, Simon said.

“The specific policy ask for the department for business, energy and industrial strategy department (BEIS) is a market that recognises the need for flexibility and construct something that you might call a flexibility mechanism to reward flexible assets to do what they do rather than shoehorn batteries into the capacity market.”

He said that unless storage capacity is significantly enhanced, the UK will increasingly end up “grotesque” situations, like that of 10 March last year, when on a “very windy” day, Scottish wind farms were paid £3.1 million to switch off, while gas peaking plants in the south of England were awarded £4.1 million to turn up generation.

Recent figures show a rapid dwindling in the amount of battery storage submitted to the latest capacity market auction.

Simon told Utility Week that Eelpower is planning to roll out 1GW of batteries across the UK, which would be located on the distribution network.

The company currently owns and operates 30MW of storage and is building another 10MW. It is also raising funds to triple its capacity to 150MW.

Simon said that the company is currently continuing to use lithium ion batteries, rather than less conventional flow technology, because the latter could not be relied on “99.7 per cent” of the time.

He also denied that getting planning permission is an obstacle to the roll out of electricity storage, pointing out that 50MW of batteries can be accommodated on a three-acre site and they are typically located in brownfield locations close to where demand is most intense.