UK elections: who’s best for energy storage?

UK energy storage policy: A Conservative government may spell the end of subsidies for for renewable energy such as onshore wind turbines.

UK energy storage policy: A Conservative government may end subsidies for onshore wind turbines. Photo: Animam.

By Jason Deign

Energy storage supporters may have some reason to hope for a Labour Party-led outcome to tomorrow’s UK General Elections, an analysis of electoral pledges reveals.

Labour, currently trailing the ruling Conservatives by a photo-finish margin in opinion polls, has issued one of the strongest renewable energy promises in the electoral campaign, with a plan to de-carbonise the UK completely by 2030.

“We will work to make Britain a world leader in low carbon technologies over the next decade, creating a million additional green jobs,” says Labour’s manifesto.

“This aim will be supported by ambitious domestic carbon reduction targets, including a legal target to remove the carbon from our electricity supply by 2030, and a major drive for energy efficiency.”

And while Labour, the UK’s main left-wing party, does not mention energy storage as such in its proposals, at least two of its potential government alliance partners do.

Support for energy storage

One of these is the Liberal Democrats, which is currently a coalition partner to the Conservatives but has confirmed it will talk to whatever party leads in the voting tomorrow.

It aims to up “research and development and commercialisation support in four key low-carbon technologies where Britain could lead the world: tidal power, carbon capture and storage, energy storage and ultra-low emission vehicles.”

Meanwhile the Green Party flags up storage as a major priority within its energy policy proposals.

“The Green Party strategy for energy efficiency ensures that we can change to an energy system based mainly on electricity from renewables within 15–20 years (a little longer for transport),” it says.

“This will require substantial investment over the period. We also need to pay more attention to energy storage.”

Research and deployment programme

By “more attention”, the party means spending GBP£2.5bn on “an intensive research and deployment programme” for non-solar, non-wind renewables and energy storage.

The Greens also pledge to: “Expand electricity storage capacity, including using the potential storage capacity of electric vehicles, and develop the commercial and regulatory framework to make this a reality.”

On current forecasts, however, neither the Liberal Democrats nor the Greens are likely to emerge as deal breakers in tomorrow’s ballot, billed as “the tightest general election for decades.”

The Scottish National Party (SNP), on the other hand, could well play a pivotal role in the electoral outcome after predictions show it becoming the UK’s third-largest political group.

While Labour leader Ed Milliband has ruled out a deal with the SNP, the Scottish Nationals remain open to dialogue. And theirs, too, is a renewable-friendly agenda.

Removing barriers to pumped hydro

“Our ambition is not limited to wind,” says the SNP manifesto.

“We want the UK government to remove barriers that are limiting growth in the hydro sector and believe there should be additional support for pump [sic] hydro and Carbon Capture and Storage schemes.”

Indeed, Scotland has a vested interest in developing large-scale energy storage reserves, including pumped hydro schemes, to cope with the massive amounts of on- and offshore wind it has permitted in recent years.

The country is also experimenting with other storage technologies to support emerging renewable energy technologies such as tidal stream power.

The outcome of these elections is important for energy storage because of the size and scope of the country’s renewable sector.

Remarkably, the UK is now the world’s third-largest market for utility-scale solar installations, beating India and Germany, according to Wiki-Solar.

A leader in emerging renewable technologies

It also has the world’s largest offshore wind market and is a leader in emerging renewable energy technologies such as tidal stream.

A more favourable attitude towards energy storage, as espoused by some of the country’s left-leaning parties, could help give the industry a real push.

At this point, however, any speculation on likely leadership alliances is pure guesswork.

The UK’s self-proclaimed ‘top general election predictor’, Electoral Calculus, says: “Currently there is about a 90% chance of a hung parliament in 2015.

“The growth of SNP support in Scotland creates a genuine four-party system at Westminster, with a range of possible coalition permutations.”

The Election Forecast website, meanwhile, says: “Our current prediction is that there will be no overall majority, but that the Conservatives will be the largest party with 281 seats.

Substantial uncertainty in forecasts

“However, based on the historical relationships between the sources of information we are using in our forecast and the outcome of UK elections, we know there is substantial uncertainty in our forecast.”

Even if tomorrow’s elections do indeed hand victory to the Conservatives, which claim to have led “the greenest government ever” but are now pledging to end onshore wind subsidies, that might not end up a bad thing for energy storage.

As much as favourable policies, renewable and energy storage development depends on economic stability and a healthy investment climate.

And some observers have questioned whether Labour’s decarbonisation pledge is economically viable.

Furthermore, at least one project developer consulted by Energy Storage Report has expressed concerns over the financial instability that an SNP surge might bring to projects north of the border.

But with the odds stacked against any single party winning the election, and leaders refusing to entertain a number of viable partnerships, it is beginning to look like stability will be hard to achieve whatever the weather.

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