An industrial-sized battery has been attached to the UK’s electricity grid as part of a research project looking into large scale energy storage that could bring greater consistency to energy generation from renewables.
The £4m facility is one of the three largest batteries currently operational in the UK and is the first to use a lithium titanate storage solution.
The University of Sheffield is pioneering research looking at how such batteries can bring stability to the energy grid considering erratic production from renewables such as solar and wind that only generate when the Sun is shining or when the UK is beset by gusty weather conditions.
Additionally, the batteries could be used to store energy produced from fossil fuels during the night when electricity production exceeds demand.
One of the new facility’s unique capabilities, resulting from its lithium titanate composition, is the speed at which it can respond to demands from the National Grid to import or export electricity. With a response time of just 4/10ths of a second, the battery can respond to demand faster than any other equivalent facility.
The government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change has identified energy storage as a key priority and is expected to launch a new policy later this year. Other countries will also need to install energy storage technologies in the future to balance the sometimes unpredictable supply of renewable energy and demand.
A recent report by the National Infrastructure Commission has suggested that energy storage could contribute to innovations that could save consumers £8bn a year by 2030 and improve the UK’s energy security.
Based at the Willenhall substation near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, part of the Western Power Distribution Network, the facility is owned and operated by the energy storage research team at the University of Sheffield as part of the Energy2050 initiative, in conjunction with partners at Aston University and the University of Southampton.
Professor David Stone, director of the Willenhall Facility, said: “As the demand for energy increases in the UK, storage systems are needed to balance supply. The first commercial projects are coming on line, but there are still many technical issues to be explored in order to maximise the potential of these technologies and to reduce costs.
“This dedicated national research facility has been designed to offer enhanced frequency response to peaks in demand and is available to be used by other academic and industrial projects for their research and to test new technologies.
“I am also delighted to announce a new innovation project with E.ON and Uniper, in which we will be using the facility to help develop their understanding of operating a lithium titanate battery”.
The University is also planning the next stage of research which is looking at how used electric vehicle battery packs could test the viability for domestic or industrial electricity storage. This ‘second life’ system is due to go online later this year, aiming to combine the energy from the battery packs so that it functions together as a single larger battery unit.
Meanwhile, Swedish researchers have said they have developed a new type of supercapacitor that can be charged by heat and stores 2,500 times more energy than the most efficient devices currently available.