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Smarter Network Storage project 'trial' kicks off in Bedfordshire, UK

Project said to be the largest electricity storage facility of its type in the region.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change Amber Rudd MP  welcomed the start of trials at what UK Power Networks is calling the largest electricity storage facility of its type in Europe. The building itself is approximately 760 square metres – 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. The other room houses the battery racks and modules where the energy is actually stored.

After extensive testing of the giant battery – known as the Smarter Network Storage facility at Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire – it will now be trialled for two years by UK Power Networks, which distributes electricity in the East of England, London and the South East. 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 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 around 6,000 homes for 1.5 hours at peak times, about 1,100 typical UK homes for a whole day during average or low demand times, or more than 27,000 homes for an hour.

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.

“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" said Ms Rudd during a tour of the facility. “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.”

Barry Hatton, UK Power Networks’ director of asset anagement, said the project involves a range of commercial and technical trials to explore and improve the economics of electrical energy storage, allowing storage to benefit the electricity system in a number of sustainable and flexible 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," he added.

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, and 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 for customers.

“This project will have an impact not only for Leighton Buzzard but also nationally and internationally," Hatton explained. "What we learn here from this exciting and important development will be vital for future similar schemes.”

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

The fully automated 6MW/10MWh Smarter Network Storage project will assess the role of energy storage in cost effectively delivering the UK’s Carbon Plan, saving more than £6 million on traditional network reinforcement methods. (S&C Electric Europe is the lead supplier to the £18.7 million project, drawing on its extensive experience of deploying energy storage projects in the UK and around the world; Berlin-based Younicos contributed custom-built intelligent software architecture and components.)

By providing frequency regulation as well as load shifting, the project will stabilise the grid more effectively than traditional thermal generators, providing more space on the grid for clean, but intermittent renewable energies.

"Energy storage can play a major role in balancing the grid, as it solves the problem of renewable intermittency by absorbing surplus power and releasing it when needed," said Andrew Jones, managing director, S&C Electric Europe. "This function simultaneously helps to securely balance capacity and supply and protects the grid from Stress Events (e.g. power outages) on the grid.

"The introduction of energy storage in substations like the one at Leighton Buzzard can decrease the need and cost of traditional reinforcement, such as transformers and cabling.”


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