By Scott Poulter

The UK is known to be one of the world’s most active markets for battery energy storage. In 2022, the market saw a record 800 MWh of new storage capacity being added. This took the UK’s operational energy storage capacity to 2.4 GW and 2.6 GWh, spread across more than 160 sites. 

You would think that is plenty, but the market is just getting started. As of February 2023, more than 20 GW of new capacity had been approved and was likely to come online in the next three or four years, including 33 projects of at least 100 MW. 

A further 11 GW of projects had been submitted for planning approval and more than 28 GW was at pre-application stage. The question is: where will it all go? The simple answer is, almost anywhere. 

Unlike wind or solar plants, which require large tracts of land, battery storage is a relatively compact form of energy infrastructure. Pacific Green’s Richborough Energy Park battery project, for example, occupies less than four acres for 100 MW of storage capacity. 

This compares to between 500 and 1,000 acres for a 100 MW solar plant and between 200 and 4,000 acres for a wind farm with the same capacity. So, battery systems can easily be dotted around the country, even in sites that cannot accommodate renewable generation. 

That said, there are locations where battery storage can be particularly valuable. Here are some. 

Alongside renewable energy plants

Because wind and solar plants occupy so much room, it makes sense to maximise their contribution to the grid. This does not always happen today, though. 

Renewable energy gets cut off or curtailed when there is no immediate need for it on the electricity network, or when the amount being produced exceeds the capacity of the grid connection. 

However, by adding battery systems to the plants you can store any excess energy and pass it on to the grid when demand rises. 

Another benefit of co-locating batteries and renewable plants is that it allows the owner of the infrastructure to use their grid connection even when the project is not exporting clean energy. 

For example, you could store cheap night-time electricity when solar panels are not generating and sell it when demand ramps up in the morning. This is useful because grid connections come with significant fees and charges, making it important to get as much use out of them as possible. 

Where there is spare grid capacity

To help the grid, battery systems must be connected to it. Hence, it makes sense for batteries to be installed in locations where there is spare grid capacity, so the storage assets can easily soak up excess energy when it is available and feed it back when demand rises. 

Despite growing grid congestion, there are plenty of places where there is significant connection capacity—even in places such as Cornwall, where the electricity network tapers to the west:

Map of high potential spare grid network capacity in the South West United Kingdom. Source - National Grid

Where the grid is constrained

Conversely, battery systems can also be useful in areas that suffer from grid constraints. In places where the electricity network cannot always meet demand, the only option until recently was to strengthen the grid with new equipment—a costly and time-consuming process. 

Grid constraints are a major concern for electricity network planners, with some observers claiming they could impair the UK’s chances of transitioning to a cleaner energy system. In June 2022, the cost of balancing the grid rose 57%, to £332 million a month, because of constraints. 

With batteries, however, it is possible to use stored electricity to supplement grid supplies during times of high demand, helping the electric system to cope when it would otherwise be overwhelmed. 

Studies in the US show such grid deferral projects are probably the most valuable way that batteries can help electricity network operators. 

This value increases as the amount of renewable energy on the system rises from 40% to 60%, researchers say—and renewables accounted for a 36% share of total electricity generation on the UK grid in the third quarter of 2022. 

On brownfield industrial sites

Brownfield industrial sites are of particular interest for battery storage developers. To begin with, there are few land-use issues, and secondly many of these sites are close to industrial concerns that have heavy energy requirements. 

Since such companies can end up paying large amounts of money for electricity consumed during peak periods, they will likely welcome the possibility of tapping into battery supplies instead. 

Another benefit of brownfield sites is that they may have existing or close-by grid connections, simplifying the process of connecting a project to the electricity network. One especially interesting type of location is old thermal power plants. 

As the UK retires its coal-fired generation fleet, there is a growing number of sites that are set up to export energy to the grid yet are sitting idle. That is the case with the Richborough Energy Park energy storage project, which is on brownfield land previously occupied by a coal-fired plant. 

Richborough Battery Energy Park - Kent, United Kingdom.

The site is now being redeveloped with clean energy in mind and 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 service in 2019.

It is also the landing point for energy from the 300 MW Thanet offshore wind farm, which was the largest of its kind in the world when it was commissioned in 2010.

On your land

With so many options at hand, it should not be hard to find sites for battery projects. But at Pacific Green we are still keen to speak to landowners that might be interested in profiting from the UK’s green energy revolution. 

We are aiming to develop 1.1 GW of capacity by the end of 2025, or around 10% of all the battery capacity that the UK might end up installing this decade. That is a massive financial opportunity, no matter what part of the country you are looking at.

Publish date: 09 August, 2023