Copper Consultancy Director for Energy Infrastructure Sam Cranston and Account Manager Alex Rowntree explore new opportunities for community engagement as the UK’s energy storage pipeline goes from strength to strength.

2022 was the year of growth for renewable energy generation. Favourable market conditions spurred on sustained investment in new infrastructure, whilst public backing for net zero has gone from strength to strength as the UK seeks to become more energy independent following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.  

Such growth, however, presents new challenges and opportunities for the energy storage sector. New generation capacity has undeniably accelerated the need for new storage infrastructure. A recent study from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) linked to their ongoing Review of Electricity Markets (REMA) consultation, for example, highlights that in a high-demand scenario, energy storage is required to grow sixfold to 350GW by 2050. With equity investment in long duration, the technology now catching-up with solar and the recent balancing mechanism on constraint costs cutting development fees, market conditions are now ripe for further growth.  

But, without clear and proactive messaging and new forms of engagement, there is a clear risk that local opposition to new projects will inhibit the sector’s success.  

Just as we’ve seen with last year’s solar boom, public understanding of the benefits of storage will be key to limiting the risk of opposition. With new projects now required to go through the TCPA (Town and Country Planning Act) consenting process following the Infrastructure Planning (Electricity Storage Facilities) Order 2020, the risk of applications being overturned or challenged at appeal has been heightened considerably. For the rollout to succeed, we need a clear and proactive national narrative on the benefits of the technology that can be clearly tailored to communities at a local level.  

Developing new storage infrastructure, for example, can help accelerate the transition to Distribution Systems Operators managing the network – reducing reliance on substations and opening new developable land that can mitigate direct impacts on communities and landholders. Storage can also be used to save operational costs in powering the grid, helping to offset the costs to consumers by preserving low-cost energy and deploying it later during peak periods. Copper Consultancy and Solar Energy UK’s joint report, Public attitudes to solar, highlights that most people consider low-cost energy to be a key benefit of renewable technology and impact on local wildlife a main disadvantage. Dispelling early myths around storage and highlighting its unique potential as having little cumulative environmental impact as well as being a crucial component of cutting consumer cost is an example of a small but impactful measure that will have an important role in generating public buy-in.  

While considerable effort has gone into communicating our mission to reach net zero by 2050, cutting energy storage out of the national narrative, largely due to its limited cumulative impact, will only diminish public understanding of its importance.  

A national programme will take time to both get moving and to have an impact. But rethinking how we engage communities will allow the industry to lead at the forefront of this messaging and match the scale of our collective ambition to reach net zero.