The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) has cautioned that without sufficient flexibility, the costs of integrating intermittent energy sources into the electricity system will be much higher than necessary.

Flexibility is increasingly essential as some power sources that are growing in importance – such as solar and wind – are variable in the amount of power they supply. In order to balance supply and demand, flexibility is needed, through mechanisms such as increased use of small power stations that can start up quickly, or measures where energy users turn down demand.

Released on 21 February, UKERC’s paper is an update to its 2006 review of the costs and impacts of incorporating “intermittent” generation. It recommends that going forward a whole system analytical approach is “essential” to determine the optimal mix of technologies in substantially transformed systems.

Co-author of the report, Dr. Rob Gross commented: “The conversation we have every winter, which is only about whether we have enough spare capacity to keep the lights from going out, is the wrong question. What we should be asking instead is not just how many power stations we need, but whether they’re the right kind of power stations to keep the system flexible enough.”

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