11 November 2015

S4M-14440 Energy Storage Network

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-14440, in the name of Mike MacKenzie, on the energy storage network. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the launch by Scottish Renewables of its new storage network and its publication of a briefing paper, Energy Storage: The Basics; understands that the technologies covered in the paper include hydrogen fuel cells, large-scale heat storage and supercapacitors and that the purpose of the network is to bring together people and organisations with an interest in the energy storage sector, which it believes is growing rapidly; notes reports that it is estimated that the global market for large-scale energy storage will be worth around £20 billion by 2022; understands that Scotland has already taken a lead in the development of technologies such as grid-scale batteries, and notes the view that it is of vital importance to the future of the renewable energy sector in the Highlands and Islands and across the country that Scotland continues to develop a strong energy storage sector.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Other members have mentioned Tom Johnston, but one key aspiration that he had has not yet been referred to. He imagined that, with the building of hydroelectric schemes, we would get to a position where no charge was made for the electricity that was supplied, because there was no cost in the energy source from which it came. That sounds like fantasy, except that it is now happening in Texas.

In reading The New York Times on Sunday, I spotted that TXU Energy of Texas, which is the state in the United States with the highest proportion of installed wind energy, is now supplying to its customers at no charge whatsoever all the electricity that they can use between 9 o’clock at night and 6 o’clock in the morning. There is a future out there, if we get the infrastructure in the right place, that will enable us to do things that are both environmentally and practically favourable to energy consumers.

Of course, the electricity is free overnight because that is not when most people want it. That brings us neatly to the whole point of storage. I declare that I am a member of the Institution of Engineering and Technology. It has a monthly magazine that covers up-to-date projects, and the October edition described what is a very exciting project. It involves a lithium-oxygen battery that uses graphene—that is, single atom level graphite carbon—to protect the electrodes from corrosion in the pure oxygen environment that is required in such batteries. A demonstrator is working in the lab, which means that in 10 years’ time, the technology might be available to us as consumers.

Weight for weight and volume for volume, that battery can store the same amount of energy as a tankful of petrol, and it is theoretically already able—in demonstrator mode—to enable us to travel 650km between Edinburgh and London for one fifth of the cost of present technology and one fifth of the weight. In other words, it is a direct and genuine competitor with the petrol and diesel engines that we have in our cars today. We cannot guarantee that it will come out of the lab and end up as a commercial product, but the portents are really quite encouraging.

We have seen enormous changes taking place in the technology of batteries. The point is that, if someone has local generation—a turbine on their roof—and they can charge their car overnight and get a normal tankful of energy, that is pretty good, because the transmission cost is nil, they are in control of what is going on and there are huge environmental benefits.

I contrast that with what the Financial Times reported on Tuesday last week. It told us that the energy supply in the United Kingdom has been so ill managed that the UK Government is having to contract for diesel power stations. We now like diesel a lot less than we did a few months ago, before Volkswagen revealed to us how polluting it is, but the Government is going to spend £436 million to provide excess diesel capacity at precisely the point at which it is shutting down renewables. That disnae make sense.

This has been an excellent debate and I say well done to Mike MacKenzie. I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say.


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