A ground-breaking £2.5m battery storage scheme will begin operating in Gateshead this summer as the town places itself at the forefront of the UK energy revolution. Peter McCusker reports.
AT 4pm every weekday the two massive batteries based in the corner of a Gateshead Council depot on Park Road will click into operation delivering electricity to high-profile Tyneside buildings including The Sage and the Baltic.
The batteries can store and release up to 3MW of electricity, which is equivalent to the output of one million standard AA batteries. This electricity will have been generated more cheaply in Gateshead’s Energy Centre earlier in the day.
They are connected to these iconic Tyneside buildings, and others, through a newly-created network of ‘private’ electricity wires – alongside a similar new network of heat pipes – following an £18m investment by Gateshead Council.
Those connected to the network are set to achieve to significant savings of around 5% on electricity bills and 10% on heat bills every year – and plans are under way to explore similar schemes at the MetroCentre and the Team Valley.
Jim Gillon, energy services manager at Gateshead Council, said: “The council sees the development of a low-carbon energy resource as key to meeting our climate change goals, but also in generating vital revenues to support our public services such as schools and social care.
“The energy centre, and the new battery storage facility are key developments in supporting these ambitions, that will both generate income for the council, as well as saving up to £200,000 in energy costs per year for the initial customers.”
With the scheme set to last at least 40 years it is expected to fully recover the £18m build cost within 20 years, and go on to generate income beyond.
At the same time it will cut annual carbon dioxide emissions by 5,300 tonnes, which will grow over time as the network expands.
One of the most striking aspects of the scheme is that, unlike almost all current developments in the UK energy sector, it has been created without any direct subsidy.
Mr Gillon said the key to the success of the venture has been the creation of a ‘private wire network’ separate from Northern Powergrid, the local operator, whilst still connected to the National Grid as back-up.
“Private wire has made this relatively small scheme commercial viable and is now a model that can be pursued elsewhere in the UK.
“Gateshead is the first public body to acquire existing high-voltage power assets from a district network operator, in transactions agreed by Ofgem, to facilitate the connection of existing buildings to a private wire network.”
The Energy Centre was opened by former Energy Minister Jesse Norman in March this year and forms part of the Gateshead District Energy Scheme – the first such development of its kind in the North East and one of the first such schemes in the UK.
It supplies heat and power to domestic, public and commercial customers from 4MW of gas-fired, combined heat and power (CHP) generators.
As well as delivering power to local customers, the CHP generators secure additional income from National Grid through contracts to provide back-up electricity to the network at times of peak demand such as cold winter evenings.
Other prominent buildings connected to the network currently include Gateshead College and the Civic Centre and the scheme is designed to be connected to additional buildings in the Baltic Business Quarter, Gateshead Quays and across the town centre itself.
Discussions on additional connections are underway with major commercial retailers and hotels in the town centre and Mr Gillon’s team is also in discussions with local biogas generators, to potentially source low-carbon biogas, produced from food-waste, to further reduce the carbon footprint of the fuel used by the Energy Centre.
Decentralised power is supported by the Conservative Government and is a key ingredient of the Labour Party’s energy manifesto commitments.
Mr Gillon said: “We hope this ground-breaking scheme might set the blueprint for next generation district energy schemes integrating heat and power generation and distribution with energy storage whilst providing national grid services.
“The scheme, with its integration of all elements of energy – heat/power generation, heat/power storage, private distribution, and a full suite of grid services (reserve, capacity, frequency) proves that every element of energy technology can be decentralised, and remain commercial viable, whilst still fully integrated with national networks.”
AS well as supporting the existing network on a daily basis, the new £2.5m battery storage – paid for by the council, and installed and operated by Centrica (the owner of British Gas) will provide support to the National Grid at times of ‘stress’.
This mirrors similar development across the UK, which is becoming a hotbed for this type of utility-scale battery development.
The rapid growth of solar and wind energy means power supplies depend increasingly on whether the wind is blowing or the sun shining.
As a result, utilities are looking for new ways to store renewable energy for release into the grid when supplies are low.
In the UK the challenge is especially acute because the buffer between supply and demand is tighter than in other European countries as old fossil fuel plants close; Britain lacks Germany’s supply lines to import power and maintain grid frequency – the change in direction of the electrical current – when local supplies drop.
“(Renewables) intermittency means the frequency on the grid changes more quickly than before so we need faster technology which can react to that,” said Cathy McClay, commercial head at the British National Grid system operator.
Last year, National Grid held one of the world’s first tenders to supply rapid grid balancing services on four-year contracts.
Gateshead Council’s partner, Centrica, won a Fast Frequency Response contract to supply power at less than 1 seconds notice, for up to a 30 minute period, which will help maintain grid frequency at 50Hertz.