Gas storage is not just about price management – it’s about protecting the power grid when the sky is dark and motionless.
There is a plan to renovate and restore the UK gas storage facility at the Rough Field. There is the usual to-ing and fro-ing about whether central government should be underwriting or even directly financing this. It will be an energy storage facility of high strategic value to the nation, particularly because of the Great British Endeavour to knock back and lock out the Russians, through participating in a Europe-wide accord to sanction and deter energy imports from the east. Should it be considered a national asset, funded by the state ?
This discourse about ownership and costs misses a trick : it’s not just about the price of Natural Gas in international day-to-day and futures markets; and it’s not even just about the supply of Natural Gas in a tight winter scenario, or with unreliable trading partners.
Gas storage in an emerging era of high levels of renewable electricity generation is about compensating for variability of supply in green power.
It’s about using gas to balance solar and wind power when the sky grows dark and motionless, such as during high pressure weather systems in winter, solar eclipses, and long winter nights.
It’s about when there is a sudden need for gas-fired power generation across a wide geographical area, where the intensity of renewable energy resources hits a lull, and gas power is needed to brige the gap across the whole region.
Suddenly, there could be a massive demand for gas, on a scale that’s something like ten times the size of gas consumption on a bright summer’s day with a light-to-moderate breeze, or stormy autumn evening, across the whole of the European region. There is no market that could adapt that fast to increase provision of gas at speed : gas storage is basically a power grid survival mechanism, as batteries all have a finite size.
Without gas storage, we simply cannot increase the percentage levels of renewable electricity power generation in the grid supply, for there will always be calm, dark hours, days, or even weeks.
Without gas storage, we will rapidly hit a solar and wind power ceiling; no higher can we go, in percentage terms of supply, if we do not have reliable, voluminous, immediate quantities of power generation backup, dispatched perhaps within minutes.
Yes, the gas storage could be the storage of Natural Gas – for now. Into the future, it would need to be Renewable Gas. It might be costly to replace all Natural Gas boilers with hydrogen boilers, and so some believe that Renewable Methane should the only Renewable Gas. However, any resource of Renewable Gas should form part of the nation’s emergency gas storage, saved for the purpose of power generation to bridge the natural variability gaps in renewable electricity supply.
Yes, gas use avoided is cheaper than gas storage. Yes, there should be a national programme of building insulation, as a national strategic policy, centrally-funded, as at the moment, nobody is taking key responsibility for implementing building insulation. Lowering consumption will help with household bills, protection from Russian blackmail, climate change. But lowering gas consumption does not mean that we can do without gas storage. Lower gas consumption in homes and offices and public buildings will help make sure the gas storage facilities of the country are used for their most high-value purpose – the support of the power grid.
It may seem paradoxical, but insulation will actually help provide more energy when it’s needed most.
And in addition, increasing insulation, in order to lower individual building gas consumption, will actually prevent winter power blackouts.