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UK transmission network gets Belectric solar-plus-storage for grid stability trial

Willersey solar farm in Gloucestershire in the west of England, where one of Belectric's battery systems for National Grid will be constructed and connected. Image: Belectric.
Another large-scale project to test the grid-stabilising capabilities of battery-based energy storage systems will be launched at a solar farm in England, led by the National Grid, which is responsible for the UK’s electrical transmission network infrastructure.

The UK arm of the German PV power plant technology firm, Belectric, has officially announced its participation in the Enhanced Frequency Control Capability (EFCC) project, which aims to test the suitability of various new technologies to assist the control of system frequency. In other words, renewables and related low carbon technologies like energy storage and demand side response will be trialled for their ability to replace the role of thermal power generation like coal and gas to provide frequency response.

National Grid received approval and funding for EFCC through the national energy regulator, Ofgem. It is hoped that in addition to providing a viable alternative to fossil fuel spinning reserve, EFCC might also show that energy storage can help prevent the need for expensive infrastructure updates. For example, new infrastructure like substations could be built to move electricity from one part of the grid to another in order to provide balance. On the other hand, storing the electricity until it is needed in a battery could be an alternative to this costly process.

Belectric UK arm will provide energy management and storage technology to two battery storage projects for EFCC. One of these will be co-located at Willersey Solar Farm, a 3.8MWp project completed towards the end of last year by the company in the west of England using thin-film PV modules. Willersey, also known as Rainbows Solar Farm, is a part community-owned installation, for which Belectric sold bonds through a crowdfunding scheme and also houses a nature sanctuary.

Visitors walking through the containerised storage systems at Belectric's Alt Daber solar farm in Germany, at the project's opening event late last year. Image: Belectric.
Not many technical details of the two battery systems, which will be designed, constructed, connected and operated by Belectric, have been revealed as yet. The system at Willersey will be supplied directly by the PV system, while the other battery system will be placed on the grid, where it will draw its power from the network’s excess during low demand periods. The idea is to develop a comparison between the two methods for locating grid-balancing energy storage systems (ESS). The ESS projects will monitor the voltage from their respective connections and react to changes in frequency of AC signals. Belectric hopes that the fast response time – around 25 milliseconds – of the systems will compare favourably to the slower ramping up times of fossil fuels plants and therefore work more economically by using less energy overall.    

The company recently completed a similar project in Germany at a solar farm in Brandenburg, where a 2,000KWh lead-acid energy storage system, ‘Energy Buffer Unit’, was installed at the site of an existing 67.8MW solar power station.

At the time of the installation of the project in Germany, Belectric UK’s Duncan Bott told PV Tech Storage's sister site PV Tech that energy storage could open up a new era for renewables.

“The various network operators around the world are starting to progress towards the recognition that historically, it was thought that renewable energy was disruptive to the network and now that’s starting to shift towards a recognition that actually, renewable energy can offer solutions to stabilising the national networks and we are progressing toward recognising how that is achievable,” Bott said.

The National Grid EFCC scheme, which received £6.9 million (US$10.9 million) in funding in November through Ofgem, will also see Alstom install a rapid-response voltage and frequency control system and Centrica install a similar project to Belectric using large-scale thermal power generation and wind farms. UK universities have also signed up as partners for the EFCC programme.

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