Energy storage model to offer clearest ever view of its future role

Published: 7 November 2019

A new whole energy system modelling tool is to provide the most comprehensive view to date on how storage and flexibility technologies could help the UK decarbonise at least cost.

The Storage and Flexibility Model (SFM), launched by Energy Systems Catapult, has been built in response to the increasingly complex challenge of balancing supply and demand in the energy system.

Storage technologies, such as hot water tanks and batteries, are predicted to become a more integral part of the future energy system. As demand for electricity is expected to see a big rise, these technologies will help ensure networks can cope and allow homes and businesses to avoid peak times when energy is more expensive.

To tackle this challenge and address a collective lack of knowledge about the extent of the role storage and flexibility could play in the future, the SFM was designed to provide the clearest ever picture of how these technologies could assist as we move towards a net-zero economy.

Alex Buckman, Networks and Energy Storage Practice Manager at Energy Systems Catapult, said: “As the UK energy system decarbonises, the ways we produce, transport, store and use energy will need to change, resulting in an increasing challenge to balance supply and demand. This will lead to a changing role for storage and competing flexibility technologies.

“Without a deeper understanding of how these technologies could help in balancing energy networks, we will at best end up with a system that costs more than it needs to and at worst one that fails to manage supply and demand.

“The Storage and Flexibility Model fills a crucial space in the current energy system modelling landscape, enabling us to see more clearly than ever how energy storage and flexibility could help the UK transition to net zero at least cost.

“These insights are relevant in a number of use-cases, including long-term capacity planning, assessing the value of specific storage technologies, and identifying the service requirements of future energy systems.

“This groundbreaking new model is on offer to any organisations in the sector that want the clearest possible view for what role flexibility could play in our energy system in the not-to-distant future.”

The SFM can represent future grid scenarios at a second-by-second level, looking across multiple seasons, vectors, network levels and geographic regions to provide uniquely valuable insights about the role of storage and flexibility. What’s more, it can also explore short term uncertainty to understand which technologies can contribute to a resilient energy system.

Early findings

Early indicative runs of the model found that a least-cost 2050 energy system is likely to require significantly more electric and thermal energy storage than previously thought.

To achieve an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050 (compared with 1990 levels), the model calculated a need for nearly 1,400 gigawatt hours of electric and thermal storage volume, 55% higher than previous estimates1 and equivalent to 125 Dinorwig Power Stations.

This rises even more if carbon capture and storage (CCS) is unavailable and creates more demand for the electrification of heating, gaseous fuel production (natural gas and hydrogen) and transport.

However, these findings require further investigation and there are plans to run the model according to the government’s current more ambitious target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.

Who can use it and what could they discover?

The Catapult is offering organisations within the sector the chance to work with our experts to gain insights from the SFM, including government, energy technology innovators and network operators.

Commissioned by the Energy Technologies Institute and developed by Baringa, the SFM allows a range of important questions around the future role of storage and flexibility, including:

  • Taking a whole energy system approach, what is the future role of energy storage and flexibility?
  • What is the scale of the different future service requirements (e.g. in MW, MWh) for storage and flexibility?
  • What is the value of various forms of storage and flexibility to the system?
  • How do the key drivers of uncertainty (both short and long-term) affect the potential role of storage & flexible alternatives?

Jonathan Wills, Chief Executive Officer at Energy Technologies Institute, said: “We’re pleased to have commissioned the Storage and Flexibility Model, as part of our Energy Storage and Distribution programme. This tool will provide valuable insights to industry when undertaking a whole systems approach to cost-effective decarbonisation for the UK.

“As the ETI draws to a close at the end of this year, much of the research from our Energy Storage and Distribution programme is being taken forward by the Energy Systems Catapult, to help advance the UK to reach its climate goals. All available data from our 12 years of research is available on our website until 2025.”

To coincide with the SFM’s launch, the report ‘Balancing Supply and Demand’ has been published describing the experience and knowledge gained from developing and running it, what it can be used for and best practice for using it.

Access report