How solar-plus-storage can help tackle the energy crisis

Solar-plus-storage offers a solution to the UK’s current energy and climate challenges, says Andy Tang, Vice President of Energy Storage & Optimisation for Wärtsilä Energy.


Europe is facing an unprecedented challenge. A rapid move away from Russian hydrocarbons has contributed to a global energy supply shortage, with many countries now considering restarting their coal and nuclear power plants to meet demand.

Against this backdrop, there is a golden opportunity for the UK to lay the foundations for cheaper and more independent energy in the future. To realise this opportunity, easily deployable clean energy solutions are needed — urgently.

One such solution is co-located solar-plus-storage.  In recent years, interest has grown among independent power producers, developers, utilities, and governments in solar-plus-storage as an alternative type of dispatchable renewable energy. By combining cheap solar energy with energy storage from batteries, these facilities can provide an immediate solution to replace baseload fossil fuel plants.

As a pioneer of the approach, we have already seen rapid growth in the US, where 63% of the planned storage capacity until 2024 is paired with solar[1]. There are plenty of reasons why the UK should emulate this successful rollout. Co-locating generation and storage gives asset owners control over when energy is discharged and the ability to accurately commit power in the day-ahead market. The technology is already available at scale, is easily deployable, and – crucially ­– can be integrated, controlled and optimised at scale to support a net zero power system.

Deployable solutions to help the current crisis

Amid the challenges, Europe has an opportunity. Modelling by Wärtsilä demonstrates that Europe can cut its power sector gas consumption in half and reduce energy costs by £273 billion (€323 billion) by 2030.

Rapidly deploying renewable energy is key – 80 GW of new renewable capacity is required every year until 2030. This should be supported by a combination of flexibility solutions, including energy storage and balancing engines, ­which can be converted to run on hydrogen and other sustainable fuels in the future.

Solar-plus-storage projects offer a deployable and reliable way of delivering clean energy, avoiding the high opex cost of nuclear and capex cost of fossil fuels. These projects can be delivered quickly and at scale, and often with a lower energy cost. For example, in the US, Wärtsilä recently announced a new 500 MW / 2 GWh portfolio to rapidly scale up clean energy. The portfolio is playing an important role in shoring up energy supply as the US transitions away from legacy fossil power, generating energy two-thirds cheaper than baseload fossil fuel plants.  

The dispatchable renewable energy from solar-plus-storage facilities is not only valuable by itself, but it also provides essential grid flexibility. The UK wasted 1.3 TWh of wind energy in the last year due to the presence of inflexible power plants which are unable to manage the intermittency of renewables. By relying on inflexible power for longer, the UK will only compound this issue, while switching to flexible power – such as solar-plus-storage projects – will help to supercharge the country’s decarbonisation.

Progress is happening in the UK

Big players are alive to new solar-plus-storage opportunities, with change already underway. Wärtsilä recently partnered with SSE’s new Solar and Battery division to develop its first energy storage system in the UK. Better flexibility is also making onshore and offshore renewable energy more attractive, as more grid-scale energy storage is brought online. 

However, despite steady growth in renewables and flexibility, more action is needed to achieve the dramatic increases in renewables and energy storage in the UK. As the Conference of the Parties (COP) presidency transfers from the UK to Egypt, the incoming hosts have placed a strong emphasis on delivery. It is essential that the UK is able to meet this challenge with tangible action.

This lesson is already being heeded around the world. It has been momentous to see the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) pass through Congress in my home country of the US, demonstrating that action to achieve net zero is possible. The IRA has set the stage for energy storage to play a starring role in US decarbonisation, using investment tax credits to boost investment.

As a pioneer of clean energy, now is the time for the UK to follow suit. By scaling up renewables and energy storage, the UK can cut energy bills, improve energy security, and create the foundations for a net zero future.

Andy Tang is Vice President of Energy Storage & Optimisation for Wärtsilä Energy


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