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The benefits of electrical energy storage (EES) are widely acknowledged: many energy industry experts and the likes of former Climate Change Minister Greg Barker consider the technology to be a potential “silver-bullet”.

As the UK moves towards a low-carbon future – adopting more renewable energy sources and increasing the electrification of heating and transport to meet UK government carbon reduction targets, EES could help maximise electricity networks’ capacity, decrease carbon emissions and reduce energy bills.

EES is considered to be an important technology in the pursuit to meet future energy needs and propel the UK’s decarbonisation goals, but it is expensive and there are only a handful of working installations, resulting in a knowledge and confidence gap within the energy industry. One smart grid project the Customer-Led Network Revolution (CLNR), led by Northern Powergrid, is helping to address this knowledge gap. The project is at the forefront of research into the potential for new commercial arrangements, customer flexibility solutions and innovative network technology, including EES.

The CLNR project’s electrical energy storage trial has seen six storage batteries of varying capacities − three with a power of 100kWh, two 200kWh batteries and the largest with a capacity of 5MWh − connected to live networks across a combination of rural and urban locations in the Northeast and Yorkshire. All six devices are being monitored to find out what role energy storage could play as part of a ‘toolkit’ of innovative smart grid solutions to help minimise the need for costly network reinforcement, increase network efficiency and support the uptake of low carbon technologies.

Ian Lloyd, Network Technology Project Manager at Northern Powergrid, explains: “The batteries have been sited on our network to understand how the technology works across different network areas, such as communities in off-gas rural areas who rely heavily on electricity. These trials are taking place on real-life networks that are not under strain, so customers won’t notice any difference to their power supply.

“The largest of the batteries, one of the biggest currently in operation in Europe, is helping us to balance the energy demands of 14,000 different homes and businesses in and around Darlington. We’ve also installed one of the smaller devices to help manage supplies to approximately 300 homes in Maltby, South Yorkshire, where there is a large proportion of customers with solar PV technology.

“It’s currently not understood how easily wide-spread implementation of local storage across the electricity network would be, so we’ve deliberately chosen this combination of locations because they offer a representative sample of 80% of the UK’s total electricity distribution network. This means that we are generating authentic real-world results that are applicable to other networks across Great Britain. The learning gained from the trials will provide understanding of how this technology can be effectively applied, as part of an overall smart grid solution, to manage peaks in demand for electricity. Our findings are also being shared with the other distribution network operators to enable them to implement practical solutions across the national electricity network.”

The CLNR project’s EES trial is unique for two reasons; the size of the largest battery; and for the first time the devices and networks they are on are being monitored through a complex Active Network Management (ANM) control system, which has been developed for the project, called GUS (Grand Unified Scheme). This allows real time monitoring of when and where ‘stored’ energy can be released; it also enables autonomous control of the other network technologies, both singularly and in combination, that are being trialled for the project.

Ian continues: “These trials represent a significant breakthrough for managing future energy demands using EES since we are demonstrating how storage may be practically deployed to alleviate system peaks in local powergrids. But commercial challenges remain if we are to see more energy storage installed. It is recognised that for storage to be affordable we need to look at new commercial models such that an installation may provide services to the transmission operator and energy suppliers as well as the local network operator to share both the costs and the benefits. We expect that storage is likely to become more common place as one of the solutions to help the UK install more renewable technologies and meet its carbon reduction targets.”

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