UK's Smarter Network Storage facility to be trialled

17th December 2014
Barney Scott

Amber Rudd MP, Department of Energy and Climate Change, has welcomed the start of trials at the largest electricity storage facility of its type in Europe. After extensive testing of the giant battery, known as the Smarter Network Storage facility in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, it will now be trialled for two years by UK Power Networks, which distributes electricity in South East England.

As the future of electricity networks changes in the coming years, it is essential that network operators invest in innovative technologies that allow them to adapt and continue providing a service to their customers.

By broadening the industry’s experience of large-scale storage in the most cost-efficient way, the project should help demonstrate how batteries can be used to make electricity networks more efficient and enable more low carbon technologies to be incorporated into existing electricity networks.

The Smarter Network Storage project has involved installing a 6MW/10MWh ’big battery’ at one of Leighton Buzzard’s main substation sites, which is large enough to power about 6,000 homes for 1.5h at peak times, 1,100 homes for a day during average or low demand times, or more than 27,000 homes for one hour.

The building itself is approximately 760 square metres, and is divided into two main rooms. One houses the transformers and inverter units that convert electricity from direct current to alternating current, whilst the other houses the battery racks and modules where the energy is actually stored.

The trials aim to explore ways to maximise the value from energy storage, by offering multiple benefits from the storage to both the local network and the wider UK system.

The significant knowledge and learning from the trials, which includes research and recommendations into future regulatory and market frameworks for storage, will be shared with other network operators, trade associations, the Government and regulator Ofgem. This will support the industry in assessing the full potential of electrical storage, enabling more efficient use of storage in the future and reducing overall costs.

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

Ms Rudd today toured the site before officially switching on the facility, and commented: “It’s great to see first-hand this innovative project - the biggest of its kind not just in the UK but across the whole of Europe. Cutting edge smart networks like this will both enhance UK skills and allow us to capture and store new forms of energy generation. This will help us to build a smart grid, which reduces the need for further costly investment in grid reinforcement by enabling greater integration of cleaner renewable energy sources into our existing energy network. That is why schemes like the ‘Big Battery’ are so important for our ambition to move to a low carbon economy.”

“Today marks the start of the two-year trail, during which we will test a wide range of different services that storage can deliver to the network,” added Barry Hatton, Director of Asset Management, UK Power Networks. “The project involves a range of commercial and technical trials to explore and improve the economics of electrical energy storage, allowing storage to benefit us in a number of ways. We have also been developing a first-of-a-kind platform to help us optimise and manage a wide range of different services that the storage can provide.”

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