Britain’s largest grid-scale battery ‘could transform the energy grid’

An £18.4m grid-scale battery system in Bedfordshire has proved the technical and commercial viability of energy storage in Britain following an extensive two-year trial, according to the facility's operator.

Distribution network operator UK Power Networks has claimed that the fully-automated 6MW/10MWh 6MW ‘big battery’, based in Leighton Buzzard, can potentially transform the energy grid and play a major role in the transition towards a low-carbon economy.

The Smarter Network Storage (SNS) facility – reportedly the only one of its kind currently operating on the energy network – can store enough electricity to power 6,000 homes for 1.5 hours at peak times.

The facility has supported National Grid for more than 7,500 hours and fed the local electricity network on more than 180 occasions, standing ready to provide power in the event of a national or local problem on the network. The project concluded grid-scale energy storage could be commercially viable as battery costs continue to fall and revenue streams become accessible.

UK Power Networks director of safety, strategy and support services Suleman Alli said: “As we move towards a low-carbon, decentralized, digital energy system, all eyes are on the role of storage – especially batteries – in Britain’s electricity network. We believe that grid-scale storage has a huge role to play in addressing the challenges the industry faces.

“The trial has drawn attention to the fact that the UK’s regulatory framework needs to evolve to help exploit its full potential. For example, energy storage currently incurs a double carbon levy – both when it stores energy and when it releases it.”

Value streams

SNS was awarded £13.2m of funding from the Low Carbon Networks Fund for the project. This was supplemented with £4m from UK Power Networks and £1.2m from project partners – a mix of businesses and academic institutions which are helping to deliver SNS. 

The building itself is approximately 8,200sq.ft – about the size of three tennis courts – and is divided into two main rooms. One houses the transformers and inverter units that convert electricity from direct current to alternating current, while the other room houses the battery racks and modules where the energy is actually stored.

UK Power Networks conducted two set of trials – one was successfully completed in March and these included looking at the storage value streams. In order to deliver greater value to customers, the team decided to undertake additional trials in the last six months from June to December 2016 to obtain further learning of the capability of SNS before the project concludes at the end of the month. 

UK Power Networks will continue to operate the battery in Leighton Buzzard, helping to meet the continuing demands for electricity in the Bedfordshire town.

Storage opportunity

The recently published Government smart energy consultation, which outlines the opportunity for businesses to actively balance their energy needs through storage, makes reference to the issues the trial highlighted.

Last month, a Policy Exchange report found that energy storage, alongside other emerging technologies such as demand response, could help establish a smarter, more flexible energy system that creates savings for the UK in the tune of £8bn by 2030.

The UK has “multiple gigawatts” of energy storage capacity that is proposed or in the development pipeline. But according to the Renewable Energy Association (REA), this will fail to come to fruition without a joined-up and more supportive policy structure from Government.

In its last report before being disbanded, the Energy and Climate Change Committee (ECC) urged the Government to “move quickly” to address the regulatory barriers faced by energy storage.

George Ogleby

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