The UK spent £60bn importing gas in just four months to stave off a winter energy crunch, according to analysis from storage experts Highview Power.
Its data reveals that in the absence of renewable energy storage to make the most of record wind generation, the country was forced to purchase expensive fossil fuels when the weather became more volatile over winter.
Britain experienced an unusual combination of wind conditions between this winter between October and January.
Low-carbon power produced 82.5 per cent of Britain’s electricity from 27 December to 9 January, however, the UK also experienced ‘dunkelflaute’ – a German term used widely in the energy sector to refer to cold, still days – when the country experienced little to no wind but still needed energy for heating.
This occurred in both November and mid-January and lack of renewable energy storage during these periods meant the UK was left with no choice but to rely on £60bn of foreign imports of gas to meet consumption needs.
The £60bn figure reflects a vast increase in imports, with data from the Office for National Statistics revealing the UK brought in less than £20bn of gas in 2021 as a whole.
Highview Power cited Ofgem estimates, which revealed that if the UK was able to boost storage to 1.35 TWh of wind during peak conditions, this would be enough to power 1.2m homes with clean, green energy every day.
Highview Power’s chief executive Rupert Pearce urged the government to ramp up storage capacity to reduce the UK’s need to turn to gas during periods
“Renewable energy storage is essential to powering a cleaner, cheaper, always-on Britain. By capturing and storing excess renewable energy, which is now the UK’s cheapest, most secure and most abundant form of energy, we can power Britain’s homes and businesses with renewable green energy, taking millions of tonnes of carbon out of the atmosphere and ending a culture of reliance on expensive foreign imports,” he said.
At its current cost of £60 per MWh, renewables are the cheapest form of electricity, as opposed to the cost of importing gas for electricity which last year peaked above £3,000 per MWh, which has exacerbated import costs.
However, the lithium-ion batteries can currently only store renewable energy for a matter of hours – compared to the months of storage gas can provide.
Other options pushed by the renewables sector include pumped hydrogen and liquid air, which are in their nascent stages.
Speaking to City A.M. last month, James Baden, founder and director of clean energy storage specialist Zenobe Energy, argued that the renewables sector needed to recognise gas was likely to have a continued role in the supply mix for the next two decades.
“Gas is going to be part of the mix for the next 15 years or so, until we’ve got sustainable long term storage solutions. I can see gas being on the network up to 2040,” he said.