UK installs first grid-scale battery

April 26, 2014 - 12:00:00 am

LONDON: Britain’s most ambitious smart grid project is being built on a housing estate in Leighton Buzzard, a rapidly growing commuter town north of London.

UK Power Networks (UKPN), which owns and operates electricity cables and lines across southeast England, is installing a giant battery farm that will supply electricity to local users at peak times.

Around 240 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries are being installed in a specially designed building raised two metres above the ground to protect it from flooding by the nearby river. And the battery room will be air-conditioned to keep the batteries comfortable at a steady 23 degrees Celsius to extend their working life.

The demonstration project, which is scheduled to begin operating in September, is jointly funded by UKPN and the Low Carbon Networks Fund, administered by the government’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.

Once it is fully operational, Leighton Buzzard will have the capacity to discharge up to 10 megawatt-hours (MWh) of power into the local distribution network at a rate of up to 6MW, enough for 6,000 homes.

The aim is to test the technical and financial feasibility of using storage to reinforce the power grid and help meet peak loads as an alternative to the conventional approach of installing more substations and overhead power lines.

Many analysts have written off electricity storage as expensive and impractical. But interest in storage is growing rapidly.

California has instructed utilities to install or procure 1,300MW of storage capacity by 2020 as part of the state’s plans to increase renewable generation and reduce emissions. Germany, Italy and China all have ambitious electricity storage plans.

Remote island communities, where the alternative is running expensive diesel generators, are also prime candidates for schemes which integrate solar and wind with battery farms.

Britain’s Scottish and Southern Energy has developed a scheme in the Shetland Islands off the north coast of Scotland to discharge 3 MW every day to help offset the evening peak.

Other island communities in the Azores, the Caribbean and the Pacific have also been identified as promising locations for integrated battery-and-renewables projects to cut blackouts and reduce reliance on diesel.

Unlike physical commodities such as oil, gas and coal, electricity cannot readily be stored, according to the traditional textbook account.