UK’s fastest energy storage system connects to grid

Energy giant E.ON has teamed up with a group of universities to create and connect a giant battery-based energy storage research facility to the grid, in a move that has created one of the largest and fastest energy storage facilities in the UK.

The £4m facility, located at Willenhall substation near Wolverhampton, was officially connected on Thursday (17 March) as energy companies E.ON and Uniper teamed up with research teams from the Universities of Aston, Southampton and Sheffield to use the facility as a testing ground for storage potential.

Uniper’s head of innovation economics Arne Hauner said: “E.ON and Uniper will use the Willenhall battery system to provide ancillary services to the electricity network. The reason for doing this is to test the operation of a battery in a new market and to gain operational experience of a different battery storage technology compared to those which we currently operate.”

The plant will operate using a 2MW lithium titanate battery from Toshiba which can supply energy to 3,000 homes for 20 minutes. The Lithium battery was selected due to its fast charge and discharge capabilities. It is also believed that these batteries have a longer lifetime and can act as a safer alternate to common lithium ion batteries.

The facility will be owned and operated by research teams from the three Universities, which have banded together to form the Energy2050 initiative – one of the UK’s largest research institutes.

The team at Energy2050 are already working on the next stage of the research initiative which will investigate how electric vehicle (EV) batteries could be used for domestic or industrial electricity storage – a feat that has already been introduced by Nissan.

The EV ‘second life’ system will go online later this year and will combine the energy from battery packs to function as a large single unit battery.

Willenhall facility director and University of Sheffield professor, David Stone said: “As the demand for energy increases in the UK, storage systems are needed to balance supply. The first commercial projects are coming on line, but there are still many technical issues to be explored in order to maximise the potential of these technologies and to reduce costs.

“This dedicated national research facility has been designed to offer enhanced frequency response to peaks in demand and is available to be used by other academic and industrial projects for their research and to test new technologies.”

Economic opportunity

The Carbon Trust has previously claimed that the implementation of energy storage systems could contribute £2.4bn to UK electricity system savings by 2030, but only if a range of ‘necessary regulatory reforms’ are introduced.

A recent National Infrastructure Commission report suggests that energy storage’s potential could reach £8bn in consumer savings and secure the UK energy supply for years to come. And as the UK’s largest energy storage project hums into life, the Government has pledged to support the sector.

Announced in this week’s Budget, Chancellor George Osborne documented that the Government will allocate “at least £50m” for innovation in energy storage, demand-side response and other smart technologies over the next five years.

Matt Mace

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