The Royal Society urges the UK government to invest in large-scale hydrogen storage for a net-zero carbon electricity network by 2035.
The Royal Society, Britain’s oldest scientific academy, has released a report titled “Large scale electricity storage,” advocating for substantial investments in technologies like green hydrogen storage to facilitate the integration of intermittent renewables into the national grid.
The Growing Demand for Electricity Storage
The report is based on 37 years of weather data and presents a compelling case for the need to develop extensive storage capabilities. It predicts that by 2050, the UK will require approximately 100 terawatt-hours (TWh) of storage capacity, equivalent to a quarter of the country’s current annual electricity demand. This is driven by the expected surge in electricity demand due to the electrification of various sectors, including heating, transportation, and industrial processes, along with factors like increased use of air conditioning, economic growth, and population growth.
While wind and solar energy are projected to be the primary sources of low-carbon electricity generation, they are also inherently volatile, varying over decadal timescales. Therefore, extensive energy storage is essential to balance supply and demand efficiently.
Why Hydrogen Storage in Salt Caverns?
The Royal Society suggests that storing surplus electricity as hydrogen in salt caverns offers a cost-effective and scalable solution. This approach aligns with the UK’s ambitious goal of achieving a net-zero carbon electricity network by 2035. The report emphasizes that hydrogen storage on this scale would be more cost-efficient than other options like batteries or pumped hydro storage.
To put this into perspective, meeting the 100 TWh storage requirement would be equivalent to constructing over 5,000 Dinorwig-pumped hydroelectric dams, which is simply not feasible. Instead, hydrogen storage in salt caverns is highlighted as the most practical choice.
Challenges and Next Steps
While the UK currently has three hydrogen storage caverns in operation since 1972, significant expansion is needed to meet the predicted storage demand. The British Geological Survey has identified suitable geological locations in Cheshire, Wessex, and East Yorkshire for additional storage capacity. However, realizing this potential will require innovative business models and market structures to incentivize construction.
The report underscores the importance of energy security and sovereignty, especially as wind and solar generation become predominant sources of electricity. An efficient and extensive energy storage infrastructure ensures a reliable electricity supply.