Massive energy storage system goes online in UK

196MWh installation has capacity to power 300,000 homes for two hours

Europe's largest battery energy storage installation has gone live in the UK with the capacity to store up to 196MWh of electricity, pointing the way towards greater use of the technology to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

The Pillswood project near Hull towards the North Sea coast of England has been developed by Harmony Energy Limited and aims to provide load balancing services to the electricity grid. It is claimed to store enough energy to power around 300,000 homes for two hours.

According to Harmony, the project is based on Tesla battery technology, employing multiple units of the company's Megapack system. Each unit is about the size of a shipping container and is capable of storing over 3MWh of energy. Construction of the project has also been managed by Tesla.

The same technology is already in use at the Victoria Big Battery in Australia, one of the largest renewable energy storage facilities in the world.

This new facility is sited close to National Grid's Creyke Beck substation, which is planned to be the connection point for the massive Dogger Bank offshore wind farm, Harmony said, the first phase of which is expected to go live next year.

The Pillswood project was originally intended to become operational over two phases in December, but Harmony claims that activation was brought forward in order to support National Grid in its efforts to provide stable and secure power over the winter period.

The move follows reports of potential blackouts this winter, which led the UK government to hold discussions with datacenter operators about keeping infrastructure operating.

Such high capacity energy storage systems could play a part in keeping datacenters online, potentially replacing the diesel powered generators that are widely used for backup power at datacenter sites.

Earlier this year, Google began testing just such a system at one of its datacenters in Belgium, with a stated goal of being entirely powered by carbon-free energy by 2030. At its St Ghislain datacenter, the search giant used its battery system to replace the diesel power backup. It said the battery system will also be used to load balance the local electrical grid.

Such systems could see datacenter operators feed some of their excess energy storage capacity back to the grid during periods of high demand, according to a study by research firm Omdia earlier this year. Microsoft and UPS vendor Eaton have also been looking into enabling this in Azure datacenters.

Meanwhile, Harmony said it has five energy storage systems under construction with energization dates slated for some time between now and October 2023.

Director Peter Kavanagh said that the completion and energization of the Pillswood project was a significant milestone for the company as it is the first of the portfolio to come online.

"All stakeholders have recognized the importance of achieving energization for this project ahead of winter to ensure the BESS services can be provided during the initial winter months, and we would like to thank Tesla, G2 Energy and Northern Powergrid for their efforts in delivering the project ahead of schedule despite a very challenging geopolitical and global supply chain environment," he said.

Andrew Buss, senior research director for IDC Europe, said that battery power has its place, but that schemes such as the Pillswood project may not be the best model for datacenters. "It is true that battery based energy storage systems have the potential to decouple supplying power to infrastructure from the grid, and to take over when power fails. We see it both for more general purpose usage as well as becoming more applicable to datacenter use and also larger scale neighbourhood, block or metro area power."

He added: "One of the biggest issues is scale and cost, and although there are some good examples of grid based systems such as Hull, this may not be all that feasible for datacenter campuses."

Buss said that it may be more feasible to change from lithium batteries to the old-fashioned lead acid type, or to the hydrogen-based fuel cells that some datacenter operators are experimenting with.

"At the end of the day, diesel generators are quite compact, very cheap, well understood, generally reliable, so the case for replacing them in already built installations based on RoI or emissions reductions is relatively small." ®

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