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BLOG: Can flexibility smooth renewables’ route to market?

Nick Sharpe

Senior Media Manager

Posted on 22/06/2017 by Nick Sharpe

Scotland’s “incredible” renewables resource wasn’t in question at two Scottish Renewables conferences this week.

It’s getting it to market that’s the issue.

Our Onshore Wind (Tuesday) and Storage & Systems Conferences (Wednesday) both tackled challenging issues for the sector.

A thread which bound the two events was the challenge faced by renewables – and onshore wind in particular – when tendering to provide flexibility services.

On Tuesday TNEI’s Catherine Cleary told how she believes “network improvement means changes to system operation, not just more copper in the ground”.

She said onshore wind “should be a provider of flexibility services, not just a flexible customer”, adding:

“The way flexibility services are procured by National Grid needs to change.

“Despite the fact that our ability to forecast weather conditions has vastly improved, tendering a month ahead does not work for wind in the same way it did for gas.”

She called for shorter tendering periods – a call which was echoed almost exactly 24 hours later by National Grid’s SO Flexibility Manager Adam Sims.

He said:

“There seem to be a big win for me in moving to markets in which wind farms can react and allowing services to be procured more frequently, i.e. a day or a week ahead, which would allow wind farms to compete in the balancing services market.”

In the same session Graeme Cooper, Executive Director, Fred. Olsen Renewables, told how the company’s novel solutions to flexibility procurement were already paying dividends.

He said all the company’s embedded wind fleet was now in the balancing mechanism and suggested making use of the inherent flexibility benefits of wind farms made sense, rather than “rushing to build new battery storage”.

For some time (in this blog, for instance) we’ve wondered whether the Corporate power purchase agreement could provide an answer for onshore wind.

On Tuesday, one speaker gave us cause to believe so: Richard Braakenburg, Director of Distributed Energy & Onshore Renewables at the Green Investment Bank, spoke at Tuesday’s Onshore Wind Conference.

He told how:

"Corporate PPAs could provide the necessary value to support unsubsidised investment in onshore wind, but the current model can be complex, time consuming and costly to implement and is not designed to the corporate’s needs. They will have to be simplified considerably if they are to become a viable foundation for growth.”

Community energy, and the involvement of cooperatives, also featured in the Onshore Wind Conference.

Baringa’s Peter Sherry described the results of a recent German auction which cleared at €57.10/MWh as “punchy”.

But he pointed out the huge win for cooperatives in that competition (nine in ten projects which won contracts had the involvement of co-ops) was a result of a series of advantages which they were given during the auction process.

Callum Whiteford of RES used his presentation in Tuesday’s last session to set out the case for involving local supply chains in onshore wind projects.

A case study of the recently-completed Freasdail Wind Farm in Argyll showed the value of picking local suppliers (even when they may have limited experience of working on wind projects).

That scheme alone delivered £6.34 million into the local economy – including £210,000 into accommodation during the quiet winter season – as well as “one of the nicest-looking access tracks I’ve ever seen” courtesy of a local civils contractor.

The Storage & Systems Conference had a lot of ground to cover.

  • A side event hosted by AREG heard from Belgian hydrogen leader Hydrogenics on how gas-to-grid and back again is already solving transmission issues in Germany and beyond.
  • Everoze’s Paul Reynolds told how smart charging of electric vehicles could make room for more renewable electricity on an already-congested system (keep an eye out for a blog on this coming soon – and sign up for our blog mailing list if you’d like to be kept abreast of the latest updates).
  • The Energy Systems Catapult’s Paul Jordan spoke about the need for local area planning of energy needs – a call echoed by the Anna Kynaston, Head of The Scottish Government’s Low Carbon Support Unit.
  • Ofgem’s Andy Burgess discussed the organisation’s remit to protect not just the consumers of today but the consumers of tomorrow, adding: “As far as possible we want a level playing field across different providers of flexibility – batteries, DSR, EFR etc”.

Highlighting the transition from carbon-intensive generation to a new energy system also represents a transition from the storage we already get from coal and gas.

Keith Bell, ScottishPower Professor of Smart Grids at the University of Strathclyde, gave the audience food for thought, saying:

“We benefit from a lot of energy storage already in the form of the chemical energy contained in coal, oil and gas and we need to be very careful as we think about how to replace that.”

System integration, storage, smart technology and flexibility, as well as onshore wind, clearly all have large roles to play in the future of the energy system, and Ofgem and National Grid are working on solutions to many of the issues covered at our events this week.

But it’s clear that continuing reform of the charging frameworks and the opening up of a route to market is vital if both are to fulfil their full potential.