What is the Current Capacity of BESS in the UK?

What is the Current Capacity of BESS in the UK?

We’re currently at the very beginnings of battery energy storage in the UK. It’s a fast-moving area and one that’s expected to boom in capacity over the next few decades. 

Towards the end of 2023, the UK had 3.5GW of battery storage capacity. That’s 3,500,000 watts. Although a large number, this is still very small in the grand scheme of things. At the time of writing, there are over 1,000 battery energy storage system (BESS) projects in the pipeline. These are growing in size too. 

The growth in battery storage reflects the direction in which the UK is heading. As a country, the national grid is transitioning to clean, renewable energy and we need battery storage to help us get there, plugging the gaps in energy supply and demand. 

The article will take a look at the state of the BESS market, go into more details on the current capacity and pipeline, as well as explain just why this is all needed. 

What is BESS?

In the most simple terms, battery energy storage systems allow us to store electrical energy for future use. We’ve all used everyday batteries to power our devices. Well, BESS operates in the same way as these small cylinders, but on a grander scale. 

The scale can be as big as grid-wide systems or as small as helping to power a single home. 

A frequent criticism of renewable energy is that it doesn’t provide a completely dependable system all year round. The sun isn’t always shining and the wind doesn’t always blow. This means renewable energy generation isn’t consistent. Especially here in the UK. 

Battery storage provides a solution for the intermittent nature of renewables. By storing surplus energy generated during high production periods and discharging it when demand exceeds supply, battery storage helps to stabilise the grid and guarantee a steady, dependable power supply. Learn more about what battery storage systems are here.

BESS now underpin a lot of technology, including the electric transport industry, that’s helping us transition to a fossil-fuel free future. 

Why are battery energy storage systems important?

The importance of BESS can’t be understated. They already play a small role in the UK’s energy landscape, which is only going to grow over time. 

First of all, BESS are essential in helping the transition towards a greener future. They can help to manage the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power. When these renewables generate surplus electricity, BESS allows the excess to be stored and released during periods of high demand, ensuring a consistent energy supply.

On a more practical scale, BESS can supply energy to power demand in exceptionally quick times. This responsiveness is crucial for maintaining the working nature of the grid, preventing power cuts and ensuring a reliable power supply to consumers. By providing these essential services, BESS not only promotes grid resilience but also enables a more cost-effective and sustainable energy system. 

BESS are also versatile and can operate across various scales, from large-scale, industrial-sized systems to smaller battery storage systems that can support domestic-level energy. For homeowners, batteries are important to store their own energy generated from solar panels. In between these two, there are commercial BESS for industrial applications. 

Currently, only 20.7% of primary energy comes from low-carbon sources in the UK. BESS will help improve the integration of renewable energy into the power mix and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels (which still provide around 40% of the mix) and energy imports from abroad.

Types of BESS projects

BESS projects can be classified into two main categories: front-of-metre (FOM) and behind-the-metre (BTM). 

  • Front-of-metre – Also known as grid-scale or utility-scale, FOM is the largest segment of the BESS market. They provide power to the grid or off-site locations, passing through the metre. Customers of FOM installations are mainly utility companies, grid operators and renewable developers. 
  • Behind-the-metre – These systems supply power to the on-site location, such as a house or a business. They don’t pass through the metre, hence the name. BTM BESS are used for commercial and industrial purposes, such as EV charging infrastructure, telecommunications and data centres, as well as for residential use.

Types of batteries used in battery energy storage systems

The BESS landscape is dominated by lithium-ion batteries. These types of storage batteries represent around 90% of grid-scale installations. 

Under the umbrella of lithium-ion, it’s thought that lithium-iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries will continue to expand in their market share. Currently, they have around 60% of the BESS market. 

As well as lithium-ion, other types of batteries will make headway too. For example, flow batteries are expected to take 6% of the market by 2040 and sodium-ion batteries around 7%. 

Current capacity of BESS in the UK

At the end of 2023, the UK had 3.5GW of operational battery storage capacity. Despite still being a relatively small figure, this is expected to ramp up very fast, very soon. 

There are a lot of battery storage projects in the pipeline. In 2023, there was 80GW of planned project work, representing an increase of 68% from the year before. These projects are at various stages of the process, including construction, consented, planning and pre-development. 

There’s a helpful government database that you can download, which tracks the progress of UK renewable electricity schemes over 150kW through the planning system. The latest figures show a total of 1,362 battery projects, with 106 finished and operational. 

Two of the biggest are the National Grid Electricity Substation in Chester – with 100MW of installed capacity – and Dollymans Storage in Wickford with 99.98 MW of capacity. It’s thought that these sites can each power around 300,000 homes for four hours. 

Projected BESS capacity

The projected BESS capacity in the UK is where it really starts to get interesting. 

Currently, the UK has 3.5GW, or 0.0035 TW, of battery storage capacity with 80GW in the pipeline. Of this 80GW pipeline, 60% are lined up for installation in England and 36% in Scotland. 

The government has set a target of hitting 30GW in operational capacity by 2030 to make sure electricity supply always meets demand. 

With the grid-scale BESS projects, many are driven around renewable pairings, such as offshore wind projects, to help meet the government’s net zero targets. These projects will account for 75% of installations by 2030 with the remaining 25% made up from BTM commercial and residential projects. 

However, if we’re to fully transition to electric heating, transport and business, it’s predicted that we’ll need an incredible 100,000 GW, or 100TW, of energy storage by 2050. Despite the big ask, the appetite for BESS in the UK energy market is significant. It’s also necessary. 

The numbers below from the government website give you an idea of the BESS ramp up over the next few years and decades. GWh represents the amount of energy in gigawatts that can be supplied over an hour. 

YearBattery Storage (GWh)

Factors driving the growth of BESS in the UK

The fast growth of BESS is being spearheaded by a number of factors, including technological advancements, government support and shifting market demands. 

One of the primary drivers is the steadily declining costs of battery technology. The cost of lithium-ion batteries today has decreased by 97% from 1990 and 13% from just five years ago. This is making BESS projects more accessible and cost-effective for businesses.

Backing this, the UK government has implemented supportive policies and regulations to encourage the adoption of BESS too. Recently, we’ve seen the LODES competition, which provided £69 million in capital funding to start-ups and novel battery technologies. This government support has further fueled the growth of commercial BESS.

As the UK transitions towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels, the need for reliable energy storage solutions has become more pressing. Additionally, the growing corporate interest in renewable energy and decarbonisation has led to a surge in demand for BESS. No less than from the adoption of electric vehicles. 

It’s thought that EVs will create the largest demand for electricity, increasing from 10GWh in 2022 to around 100GWh in 2030 and 200GWh by 2040. Private cars make up the majority of demand here, but commercial vehicles, buses and other large vehicles are expected to significantly rise in energy demand.  

Although there’s still a relatively small current capacity of battery energy storage systems in the UK, there’s a significant pipeline of BESS projects lined up in various stages of development. Together, these storage batteries will support the integration of renewable energy sources, ensure grid stability and ultimately help the UK achieve its net-zero targets. 

About the author 

Ben Hardman

Ben is a professional writer and the creator of sustainable living website TinyEco.com.
It's here where he helps people to reduce their environmental impact through simple, everyday choices. Away from the laptop, Ben loves spending time in the natural environment with his young family and Murphy the cocker spaniel.

First Class BSc Biology degree (environmental and climate change focus)
Six years of working and writing in the environmental sector, including two years working at an international sustainability consultancy
Written for Ethical Consumer magazine, My Mother Tree, Unsustainable Magazine, Happy Eco News, Emission Index, PeakDistrict.org
Commented in The Independent, The Guardian, GreenMatch. Also featured on Radio 1's environmental special 'Minute of Me'

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