The making of a world-class energy park

By Scott Poulter

A vision of energy systems to come is taking shape in Kent, on the English coast.

Richborough Energy Park, located on the former home of a thermal power station close to the mouth of the River Stour near Sandwich, is seeing the installation of battery energy storage systems that soon will be a common part of grids worldwide.

The project, the first of several planned by Pacific Green in the UK, will see 100 MW of battery capacity delivering valuable services to the UK grid from the first half of 2023. This photo essay charts the making of this ground-breaking initiative.

A privileged position

The Richborough Energy Park energy storage project is on almost four acres of brownfield land previously occupied by a coal-fired generation plant.

The site, now being redeveloped with clean energy in mind, not only boasts a 100 MW connection to the National Grid transmission network via a 400 kV substation, but also acts as a landing point for the 1 GW UK-to-Belgium Nemo Link interconnector, which entered commercial service in 2019.

Something from nothing

Prior to the project, the plot of land now housing the battery systems was vacant and unused. Even once operational, the battery plant will not be able to generate energy of its own.

Instead, it will store energy from renewable plants such as the Thanet offshore wind farm when these are producing more than the grid needs. Being able to do this—and feed the energy back into the system at times of heightened demand—will be increasingly important as the proportion of renewables on the UK grid grows.

In the meantime, Richborough Energy Park will also provide a valuable service in helping stabilise the grid as renewable energy generation dips up and down, causing variations in the frequency and voltage of the electricity system.

The start of a great undertaking

Pacific Green acquired the rights to the Richborough project from Tupa Energy, as part of an exclusive agreement to develop up to 1.1 GW of UK energy storage capacity. 

In September 2021, Pacific Green went on to secure £23 million in debt finance from Close Leasing to help fund the project, and in May 2022 Green Power Reserves made an equity investment of £13 million for a 50% shareholding in the scheme.

A June 2022 deal for more than £28 million in senior debt allowed the project to reach financial close—and for development to start in earnest.

An outstanding team

To bring the project to fruition, Pacific Green has assembled one of the most experienced teams in the business, led by Christo Hammes, here pictured right with Vincent Bowler, managing director of Richborough Energy Park’s engineering, procurement and construction partner Instalcom.

Hammes and his teammates have a long history of project development in major electric power schemes for organisations such as National Grid, Siemens and Limejump.

As well as delivering engineering and construction services, in May 2022 Instalcom was awarded the operations and maintenance contract for Richborough after it is commissioned. 

Building commences

The second half of 2022 saw Pacific Green readying the site for the delivery of the first battery and power conversion system containers, which started arriving in November.

The timely delivery of the equipment came as global lithium-ion supply chains were under stress and highlighted the importance of Pacific Green’s strong relationships with Chinese suppliers.

The battery supplier for Richborough is a joint venture between Shanghai Electric Group and Gotion New Technologies that has a 10 GWh production base in Nantong and a further 300 MWh of manufacturing capacity in Kunshan.

Pacific Green’s strategic partnership with this joint venture is intended to ensure minimum disruption in the supply of batteries for Richborough and subsequent projects.

Technological excellence

The 2.9-metre-high, containerised battery systems being installed at Richborough use a chemistry called lithium ferro-phosphate or LFP.

While belonging to the same high-performance family as those used in electric vehicles, LFP batteries have a much lower risk of overheating, making Richborough an inherently safe installation.

Also, LFP batteries do not use cobalt, which is subject to supply constraints and human rights concerns as much of the metal comes from artisanal mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

A complex project

As well as setting up and installing 58 battery and power conversion systems on the site, Instalcom was responsible for pulling in and connecting many kilometres of cross-site cabling.

Rory Elston, head of operations for Pacific Green’s subsidiary Pacific Green Energy Storage (UK), said in November 2022 that the achievement of on-target milestones was “testament to the professionalism and work ethic of our global team.”  

The blueprint for further developments

With the development of Richborough Energy Park now well underway and commissioning scheduled for later in 2023, Pacific Green is applying the experience learned on the project to other UK battery schemes. 

In December 2022, Pacific Green acquired 100% of the shares in Sheaf Energy Park from Tupa Energy. Dwarfing Richborough, Sheaf Energy Park will be a 250 MW, 375 MWh battery energy storage system located next to the current project in Kent (to the right of the picture). 

Design and construction will begin in the first half of 2023, with the energy park scheduled to begin its 35-year operating life in April 2025. The 11-acre site, bordering Sandwich Bay, will house 201 containers and the project has the full approval of the Environment Agency. 

A bright outlook

Once live, the Richborough Energy Park will benefit from a 10-year power purchase agreement with Shell Energy, with a revenue floor and trading upside for Pacific Green. 

The Richborough and Sheaf energy parks are the first in a series of battery plant opportunities being offered under Pacific Green’s agreement with Tupa Energy. Pacific Green estimates a typical 100 MW battery project could deliver around £9 million in revenue a year in the UK market. 

And, with augmentation, the asset could have a lifetime of more than 30 years. The UK grid is expected to need up to 13 GW of storage capacity by 2030, making energy parks one of the most exciting opportunities for investors today.