Electricity system operator National Grid has earned the ire of UK environmental groups for considering up to £787 million in payments over 15 years for diesel back-up systems.
The story ran just two days after an influential Parliamentary committee cited battery storage and demand response as the grid solutions the country needs.
The diesel generators will be lavishly rewarded for keeping their systems on standby, ready to power up in the event that the main grid fails. Of the 8.7 gigawatts of backup that National Grid is procuring, The Guardian says 3.9 GW will come from generators that plan to use either diesel or natural gas.
A final auction for the storage contract is scheduled for December.
“Diesel generation accounts for less than 0.1% of total energy generation and will only ever be used for very short periods of time to provide instant electricity when it is needed,” said a spokesperson for the UK Department for Business, Enterprise and Industrial Strategy. “We are taking action on diesel emissions, and all new diesel systems will have to comply with new emission controls.”
But a spokesperson for climate campaign group Sandbag said the country is “sleepwalking into a new generation of polluting diesel farms unless the government gets a grip on this. We need the right type of investment to help modernize our electricity system, and that certainly isn’t diesel.”
Richard Black of the UK Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit said greater reliance on batteries and demand response would have supported the drive to a low-carbon system. “They’ve missed a trick. They could have rewritten the rules and redesigned the capacity mechanism, they could have differentiated between clean and dirty energy, and they chose not to,” he said. “If they’d rewritten the rules to prioritize batteries and demand-side response, then we might have more of those technologies available now.”
“Britain is one of the world’s leading economies,” Greenpeace added, “and the idea that in the 21st century we may have to rely on highly polluting diesel farms to keep the lights on is quite embarrassing.”
In its report late last week, the MPs’ committee agreed. “The government must get a move on and encourage the energy market to embrace smart technological solutions like energy storage and demand-side response,” said committee chair Angus MacNeil (SNP-Na h-Eileanan an Iar). “There is an incredible opportunity for the UK to become a world leader in these disruptive technologies, yet our current energy security subsidies favour dirty diesel generation over smart new cleantech solutions.”