Planning for the future of energy storage

The emergence of renewable energy such as wind and solar has brought about the need to store the electricity that is generated when it is not needed. Technological advancements mean that it is becoming increasingly feasible to store large quantities of energy in small-scale facilities. Electricity storage therefore provides vital flexibility to the UK’s energy system, supporting the growth of low carbon technologies. The government’s objectives of ensuring security of energy supply, keeping bills as low as possible for consumers and decarbonising cost-effectively will be further supported by recognising that in the not too distant future storage will become an integral part of many large-scale, energy-intensive developments, such as universities, hospitals, hotels, restaurants and retail outlets. Batteries can store energy when prices are low and then release it when they are high, thereby potentially becoming a source of income (or at least cost-saving) for these types of developments. The planning system should be keeping pace with technological advancements in this sector so as to avoid distorting the growth potential of this important asset class.

This post considers the current regimes governing electricity storage, their effect, and the potential impact of proposals recently consulted on by the government.

What are the current regimes governing electricity storage?

Electricity storage projects are subject to the same planning regimes as electricity generation projects: projects with a capacity of up to and including 50 Megawatts (MW) must be consented via the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (“TCPA”) (planning permission) route; whereas projects with a capacity of more than 50MW fall under the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Planning (“NSIP”) regime, requiring a Development Consent Order (“DCO”).


What has been the effect of this?

Since the NSIP regime was introduced, developers have had to consider whether it is better to design a sub-50MW scheme that will benefit from a quicker and cheaper route through the planning system, or a larger and potentially more valuable scheme that has to navigate a more expensive and time-consuming consenting process. This is against a background of technological advancements and reduced cost-based barriers to market, as the relative cost of lithium-ion batteries is falling rapidly due to the expansion of electric vehicles and consumer electronics markets. Whilst storage is currently a relatively small asset class in the UK generation market, it is expected to grow significantly in the years to come, as set out in the Government’s Clean Growth Strategy. The regulatory environment, therefore, needs to respond to market changes and not act as a barrier to developers’ investment and sizing decisions.

Consultation proposals

Earlier this year, BEIS consulted on the threshold for electricity storage projects. BEIS sought views on its proposals to:

  • retain the 50MW capacity threshold that relates to standalone storage projects; and
  • to establish a new capacity threshold for composite projects whereby if the capacity of the storage and non-storage elements individually is less than 50MW then the relevant route for obtaining consent would be the TCPA, not the NSIP, regime.

Potential impact and analysis

Clearly there are difficulties with setting thresholds that apply to a wide range of generation assets, but planning applications should be determined at the appropriate level depending on the proposed project’s size, environmental impacts and national significance. The key question for BEIS, therefore, should be whether the planning system is continuing to ensure that the route to securing consent is proportionate to the anticipated effects of the project.

On this, it is worth noting that BEIS’s analysis, which underpins its current position on retaining the 50MW threshold for standalone projects, did not factor in the possibility that the existing system may be incentivising developers to submit separate rather than joint planning applications in order to avoid triggering the NSIP threshold. This is somewhat surprising, and it will be interesting to see if consultees produce examples of subdivision of projects or developers designing projects sub-optimally to avoid triggering the threshold. If there is clear evidence of this type of market distortion, then BEIS will have to consider whether the 50MW threshold, which is relevant to both proposals, remains fit for purpose.

The BEIS consultation (and this blog) focuses on the planning system in England, but the devolved government in Wales has (as of 1 April 2019) increased the NSIP threshold to 350MW, meaning that non-wind onshore energy generation projects with capacity of between 10MW and 350MW will now be decided by the Welsh Government under its Developments of National Significance (“DNS”) regime. There is no equivalent DNS regime in England but perhaps the Welsh Government’s move will act as a sign to BEIS that the 50MW DCO threshold is too low and that greater flexibility in the planning system should be afforded to energy generation projects of this size.

It seems as though the planning system will have to adapt as technology advances and we place greater reliance on storage to facilitate and support renewable energy. Looking further into the future, the planning system should also not dissuade developers of large-scale schemes from considering how storage might be integrated into their developments. As such, whatever the outcome of the recent consultation, we expect this debate to be revisited in the years to come and for there to be a wider range of stakeholders involved.

Author: Alistair Paul, Associate, Planning, Real Estate, London

For further information please contact:

Catherine Howard
Catherine Howard
Partner, Planning, Real Estate, London
+44 20 7466 2858
Alistair Paul
Alistair Paul
Associate, Planning, Real Estate, London
+44 20 7466 2252

Real Estate EP5: The future of planning – Matthew White and Ghislaine Halpenny in conversation

British Property Federation (BPF) director of strategy and external affairs, Ghislaine Halpenny, sits down with Matthew White, partner and head of UK planning, to discuss planning, its ever-changing nature and the direction it is taking.

 

Also published on the BPF soundcloud for the BPF Futures network, a networking and development group for junior professionals working in all areas of UK real estate.

For further information please contact:

Matthew White
Matthew White
Partner and Head of UK planning, London
+44 20 7466 2461

Revised Electronic Communications Code – Code Red for Landowners

A revised new Electronic Communications Code has been introduced as one element of the recent Digital Economy Act 2017 (see our TMT ebulletin of 22 May 2017). The existing Code has long been declared unfit for purpose, hopelessly out of date and badly drafted. Introduced in 1984 to deal with the privatisation of British Telecom, it was tweaked slightly by the Communications Act 2003 but failed to keep pace with advances in digital communications technology and the public’s relentless appetite for electronic services.

The government has comprehensively overhauled the Code and aims to help operators expand their networks and upgrade infrastructure by lowering the cost and simplifying the roll out of such infrastructure. This is driven in particular by operators seeking to improve the data rich services sought by both consumers (such as video, social media and gaming services) and businesses (such as cloud-based services and those in respect of connected devices) as a result of rapidly emerging digital technologies and handset capabilities. These applications consume increasingly higher bandwidths and will require faster broadband speeds if operators are to meet future capacity, quality and reliability expectations. Operators were given enhanced permitted development rights at the end of last year, to the same end.

The new Code has not been welcomed by landowners, but the government has stated that it is simply putting communications on the same footing as other essential utilities such as water and energy.

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On Election Day

Author: Matthew White, Partner and Head of UK Planning, London

I'm sure I am not alone in finding it difficult to be enthusiastic about today's general election. From a development perspective, there is little in the main parties' manifestos that stands out as new or innovative. The pledges that our would-be prime ministers have made are heavy on promise but light on detail, and deafeningly silent on deliverability. It is easy to commit to building a million new homes when there is no depth or substance as to exactly how this will be achieved. And with both parties ruling out any review of the green belt, I am left wondering what politicians think they will be doing in the next Parliament that hasn't already been definitively proven not to work in the last one.

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Getting ready for high speed broadband

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Author: Michael Mendelblat, Professional Support Lawyer, Construction and Engineering, London

From 1st January 2017, all new buildings and many renovations will be required to incorporate provision for infrastructure to connect to high speed electronic communications networks. This is the effect of the Building (Amendment) Regulations 2016 implementing an EU Directive to the same effect. The regulations apply to works in respect of which Building Regulations approval is sought after 1st January 2017. From that date, they apply to all new building works (with certain exceptions) and also apply to major renovation works affecting wired or wireless network access infrastructure, unless the cost of compliance would be disproportionate to the benefit gained.

The requirements set out in the Regulations are supplemented by an Approved Document giving guidance on how to comply with a new Part R of the Building Regulations. The effect of the new Regulations and the Approved Document is that building work must be carried out so as to ensure that a building is equipped with high speed-ready physical infrastructure up to a network termination point for electronic communications networks. This is in order to reduce future connection costs, even if actual super-fast connectivity is not immediately available.

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