Wind of change blows in Norfolk

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Hemsby Peter and Allan_web A pioneering energy project based in Norfolk is set to improve the UK’s use of wind power in future.

UK Power Networks has constructed a new “dynamic electrical energy storage device” at a site north of Hemsby. The high-tech plant is designed to harness power from local wind turbines and store it in special batteries so that it can be returned into the electricity distribution network when it’s needed - not just when the wind blows.

It is the first example of an energy storage system based on lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries in the UK and is among the first in western Europe.

It uses the DynaPeaQ (formerly known as ‘SVC Light with energy storage’) technology, developed by engineering company ABB, to convert energy into a form where it can be stored in Li-ion batteries manufactured by Saft.

The eight stacks of 13-battery modules are housed in a 25m-square substation-type building and are being charged and discharged repeatedly, storing up to 200kWh of electrical energy.

This energy is kept in reserve for times of need; such as to support power supplies to Norfolk customers in the event of a fault on the electricity network, or for improved power flow management into the network in a consistent way (wind power is naturally produced in erratic peaks and troughs which can be problematic for the energy industry).

In its early days in 2008, the project was shortlisted for an Energy Innovation Award from the East of England Energy Group and it is due to be discussed at CIRED 2011, an international electricity conference next month (June). Extensive development work culminated in the storage device being officially commissioned last month (April).

The device is also good news for the environment. If the UK can maximise the use of green energy such as wind power, it could allow more renewable energy sources to be connected into the network and ultimately lessen the need for coal-fired power stations, thereby reducing carbon emissions.

Peter Lang, from UK Power Networks’ Future Networks team, said: “Hemsby is an ideal location to test the effectiveness of this technology because we can harness power from two local wind farms. The renewable energy is fed into the network supplied from Martham.

“While many documents have been written about the theoretical benefits of energy storage, the Hemsby installation will enable us to demonstrate how, in practice, these benefits can be realised when applied to a real network.

“Now that our device has been officially switched on, its effectiveness will be carefully monitored by experts at Durham University. If it is proved to be successful, the design could be replicated in future, across many coastal parts of the UK where wind farms connect to the electricity network.”

The project was made possible with funding from Ofgem’s Innovation Funding Incentive scheme, which allows UK Power Networks to invest a proportion of its regulated funds on research and development. The incentive aims to improve the technical performance of the electricity distribution networks.

While this is the first such installation in the UK – and common sense has finally arrived in this field here as well, it would seem – it is not the first by a long shot in Europe.

Germany has been setting up such systems for a while now and, as per usual, Britain is playing “catch up” and it is amazing that it always takes us so long in this country to implement proven ideas from elsewhere.

Time and again we seem to have to run “pilot” projects first to see whether it would work in Britain. If it works elsewhere it can and will work in the UK. The political will seems to be lacking far too often, and not just in the field of renewable energy.

UK Power Networks provides power to a quarter of the UK’s population through its electricity distribution networks. They are responsible for delivering a safe, secure and sustainable power supply to eight million homes and businesses across London, the South East and East of England. The company, backed by strong ownership, aims to strengthen links with the local communities they serve, building on the skills base of the 5,500 people who work for them across the network including their major bases in Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Potters Bar, London, Crawley and Maidstone.

© 2011