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Marco Clemente

UK & Europe

Marco is responsible for all energy storage projects in Atkins’ Power and Renewables division, and has almost 10 years’ experience of project management, project engineering, thermal power plant engineering, carbon capture and storage, and energy storage projects.

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Love them or hate them, the gas holder (also known as a gasometer) is gradually disappearing from the landscape. This lasting symbol of Victorian ingenuity has been in decline for years as the way we consume and store natural gas has changed, and the land – which is often in prime territory within our cities and towns – is being sold to developers for housing or community usage.

Storing gas has been something that we in the UK, and many other places around the world, have had to do for a long time. Some gas holders have stood since the 1860s and they were being built in the UK into the early 1980s, over 100 years later.

Originally, gas holders stored gas produced from burning coal at an on-site gasworks to be used locally as needed, mainly for street lighting and heating. When North Sea gas was discovered in the 1960s and the UK network infrastructure was overhauled, gas began to come into people’s homes via a high-pressure network as it still does today and use of the gas holders went into decline.

Increasing complexity of gas supply across international boundaries is creating a need for gas storage capacity many times greater than that what exists at present. The development of storage space in underground facilities such as salt caverns, depleted oil and gas reservoirs and aquifers has the potential not only to meet this need but to do so more safely than in smaller, above-ground facilities.

Atkins’ energy storage team offers a specialist underground gas storage service, integrating our traditional planning and engineering skills to provide the capability of investigating, developing and designing storage facilities.

Demands in gas supply can vary due to a number of factors within the energy market – e.g. economic activity, electricity demand, seasonal variations in temperature or if daily supplies are lost due to technical difficulties.

Gas storage is one of the most effective means of providing supply flexibility to the grid over short term peaks or longer periods. Over winter 2013/14 storage withdrawal met 9% of the UK total gas needs, the remainder being met by other supply sources.

There are a number of reasons why we need gas storage and it has various uses:

  • Multi cycle or flexible storage;
  • Seasonal, where gas is injected to storage in summer and is delivered from storage in winter. There tends to be a spread in price of energy delivered between the two seasons;
  • Strategic, where gas is stored to be used in a defined set of unforeseen circumstances;
  • Peak shaving, where gas is stored in a facility with high rate of deliverability that is used to meet high energy demands in a short period of time;
  • System support, where gas storage facilities are located at key points on the network to supply short term back up in the event of a pipeline or compressor failure.

The key characteristics of gas storage are how much volume of gas can be injected, stored and then delivered. Most gas storage facilities are underground in either salt caverns or depleted gas fields.

Depleted gas fields are, unsurprisingly, fields that have produced all of the economically viable natural gas. A depleted gas field is readily capable of acting as a store and is economically attractive because the geological and physical characteristics have already been studied and are known. This in turn makes them cheaper to develop and operate.

Salt caverns are created when water is pumped into salt deposits underground, where the water dissolves the salt (this is known as solution mining) producing brine.

The optimum depth for salt cavern facilities range between 1,000 and 1,500 meters based on various process specific parameters. The process continues until the caverns are the correct size and shape to store gas. After the cavern integrity has been verified, gas is pumped in, the brine is extracted and the gas is stored until required. Salt caverns are useful for storing gas because the gas cannot permeate through the salt. Although they are much smaller than depleted gas fields, salt caverns can be rapidly filled meaning they are very useful for providing a quick response to short term demand increases.

Atkins is currently working with German company DEEP Underground Engineering GmbH at SSE’s Aldbrough and Atwick gas storage sites in East Yorkshire, providing end to end support through the development and execution of projects, in addition to supporting their continuing operation and maintenance, to ensure the reliability of these sites for many years to come.

These two sites are part of the UK gas storage network and combined have eighteen solution mined caverns with a combined capacity of over 500 million cubic metres (mcm); that’s about 30% of the UK’s storage deliverability.

Additionally, Atkins has provided extensive technical support to a number of other UK gas storage sites across the UK including supporting the development of the EDF Energy Hill Top Farm site in Cheshire as Owners Engineer.

Although gas storage currently plays a relatively minor role in the energy mix, it’s an important one. Gas storage is one of the most effective solutions to provide flexibility and security of gas supply.

UK & Europe, North America, Middle East & Africa, Asia Pacific,

The UK has significant technology and policy gaps that need closing if it is to deliver on the legislated 15% electricity from renewables by 2020, and 80% by 2050. The lack of suitable planned energy storage capability is at the top of this list.

Cracking Energy Storage is therefore one of the ultimate ambitions for engineers working in the Power and Renewables sector today. Whilst gas, coal and other traditional fuels can be stored conventionally (via open air, pressure vessels or (salt) caverns); figuring out a way to balance supply and demand from a growing scale of intermittent generation sources is much trickier.

The drive to develop a useful way of storing excess electricity is being made all the more urgent as more renewable generators come online around the world. This is a global effort – countries across Europe and the Middle East are steadily increasing the amount of renewables that are connected to the grid and the huge onshore wind farms in China and the USA add gigawatts to domestic production. Grid connected wind farms, both onshore and offshore, can now meet about 10% of the UK’s energy demand and in December 2014 set a record for supplying 14% of the country’s electricity.

However, we can’t control when the wind blows or when the sun shines. Frequently, peak production occurs when demand is low and there is nowhere for the electricity to go, so the wind farms are disconnected as their power is not needed. If we could increase the energy storage capacity on the grid, this would enable us to offset the peak generation of renewables and store this green electricity for use during peak demand. This in turn would offer a number of benefits and reduce the need to use electricity generated from more carbon intensive plant; not least reducing harmful greenhouse emissions.

So what’s being done to try and crack this nut? There are a number of proposed solutions that could provide the answer:

Pumped hydro is currently the world’s largest form of grid energy storage available, representing more than 99% of bulk storage capacity worldwide. In Scotland, the current energy storage capacity of 745MW is delivered through Foyers and Cruachan pumped storage, yet almost 3000MW of capacity is estimated to be required by 2020 (IMECHE). There are now limited natural sites suitable for the expansion of pumped hydro in the UK, so this compels engineers to look for innovative alternative solutions.

Hot of the press is the launch of the TESLA lithium-ion batteries in the UK. Lithium ion batteries have been around since the 1990s, but only recently improved efficiency (up to 90%) and lower costs have driven commercial viability. Containerised solutions have been deployed in China, South America and the US to complement the expansion of wind power and help to increase grid stability and provide load balancing. The major disadvantage of the Li-ion solution is cooling and the parasitic losses that can impact efficiency, especially in hotter climates.

Flow batteries presents another solution. Using an electro-chemical process, flow batteries can be scaled up and benefit from high power to energy ratios. In the UK, a DECC funded demonstrator will deploy a containerised 105kW system that would provide 12 hours of storage.

Atkins has been involved as an official advisor to DECC for the energy storage Innovation Competition. This initiative offered £17 million to UK businesses to develop and demonstrate innovative energy storage technologies; which can address grid-scale storage and balancing needs in the UK electricity network in the run up to 2020. The successful projects included smart grid technology Moixa technology, REDT UK flow battery and Viridor-Highview liquid air energy storage.

Other, perhaps less publicised technologies include a whole host of exciting concepts. These include large scale ‘hydraulic hydro storage’; where a piston of rock is used to drive high pressure water through a turbine. Offshore wind energy storage is also readily being discussed, with possible underwater compressed air storage in giant balloons or integrating thermal storage into the floating structure. Other solutions combine existing hydrogen creation through electrolysis with fuel cells; one solution looks at capturing CO2 from air and combining with hydrogen for electricity production.

Clearly there is some way to go to develop each of these concepts into something that will have tangible benefits in the real world. Over the coming months we will see more energy storage projects being constructed with many novel and interesting technologies being tested. It’s unlikely that there will be one clear winner – and perhaps a one size fits all approach just won’t work here – so in the next decade expect to see different ideas deployed addressing particular requirements.

Our Energy Storage business is exploring how we can best help push forward some of these options. By combining and utilising existing expertise across Atkins we are looking to develop our capability and be a front runner in this field. Currently, we are working closely with our clients to learn from recent demonstrator deployments, and how the regulatory drivers might present opportunities for them. The changes that are already taking place across the UK national grid present an exciting opportunity and one that Atkins must be adaptable and innovative to seize.

Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa, North America, UK & Europe, Rest of World,