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Durham University

Research & business

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Energy Storage for Low Carbon Grids

A research project of the Durham Energy Institute.


The UK electricity system faces challenges of unprecedented proportions. It is expected that 35 to 40% of the UK electricity demand will be met by renewable generation by 2020, an order of magnitude increase from the present levels. In the context of the targets proposed by the UK Climate Change Committee it is expected that the electricity sector would be almost entirely decarbonised by 2030 with significantly increased levels of electricity production and demand driven by the incorporation of heat and transport sectors into the electricity system. The key concerns are associated with system integration costs driven by radical changes on both the supply and the demand side of the UK low-carbon system. Our analysis to date suggests that a low-carbon electricity future would lead to a massive reduction in the utilisation of conventional electricity generation, transmission and distribution assets. The large-scale deployment of energy storage could mitigate this reduction in utilisation, producing significant savings. In this context, the proposed research aims at (i) developing novel approaches for evaluating the economic and environmental benefits of a range of energy storage technologies that could enhance efficiency of system operation and increase asset utilization; and (ii) innovation around 4 storage technologies; Na-ion, redox flow batteries (RFB), supercapacitors, and thermal energy storage (TES). These have been selected because of their relevance to grid-scale storage applications, their potential for transformative research, our strong and world-leading research track record on these topics and UK opportunities for exploitation of the innovations arising. 

At the heart of our proposal is a whole systems approach, recognising the need for electrical network experts to work with experts in control, converters and storage, to develop optimum solutions and options for a range of future energy scenarios. This is essential if we are to properly take into account constraints imposed by the network on the storage technologies, and in return limitations imposed by the storage technologies on the network. Our work places emphasis on future energy scenarios relevant to the UK, but the tools, methods and technologies we develop will have wide application.


Our work will provide strategic insights and direction to a wide range of stakeholders regarding the development and integration of energy storage technologies in future low carbon electricity grids, and is inspired by both (i) limitations in current grid regulation, market operation, grid investment and control practices that prevent the role of energy storage being understood and its economic and environmental value quantified, and (ii) existing barriers to the development and deployment of cost effective energy storage solutions for grid application.

Key outputs from this programme will be; a roadmap for the development of grid scale storage suited to application in the UK; an analysis of policy options that would appropriately support the deployment of storage in the UK; a blueprint for the control of storage in UK distribution networks; patents and high impact papers relating to breakthrough innovations in energy storage technologies; new tools and techniques to analyse the integration of storage into low carbon electrical networks; and a cohort of researchers and PhD students with the correct skills and experience needed to support the future research, development and deployment in this area.


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