Leighton Buzzard Battery - largest battery in Europe

During November 2013, residents in and around Woodman Close in Leighton Buzzard were subjected to a day of constant pounding as piles were driven into the ground for the foundation of the site of Europe’s largest battery.

Giant Battery in Leighton Buzzard This battery technology will trial new energy storage and capturing techniques, that allow a release of energy over long periods of time. This should hopefully reduce the peaks in supply and demand that UK energy suppliers and the national grid have to deal with on a daily basis.

The demand for energy fluctuates depending on the time of day, the weather, and what is happening in Coronation Street. More and more wind turbines and solar panels are being installed throughout Europe, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining, these represent excellent, clean sources of energy – but they tend to be intermittent. A ‘giant battery’ could store this energy and then release it as required.

The Leighton Buzzard site will be used as a trial for this new technology over a three year period and if successful, similar installations will be rolled out throughout Europe. The 6 megawatt battery was constructed at the Woodman Close substation using brand new lithium ion technology and connected to the national grid.

This Smarter Network Storage (SNS) project is run by UK Power Networks and funded in part by Ofgem. The project will cost over £18 million. A grant of £13.2 million was received from the UK Government (Ofgem) under the Low Carbon Network Fund (LCNF) scheme. Three companies, S&C Electric Europe, Samsung SDI and Younicos worked together to build the battery.

If the trials are successful, it is estimated this technology could save the UK over three billion pounds a year according to researchers at Imperial College London. The trial run is not expected to produce any results until 2016.

Woodman Close Leighton Buzzard was chosen to trial the battery for a number of reasons. The substation was already in need of upgrading to handle the needs of the town. Peak demand had exceeded the available capacity on a number of occasions in the preceeding five years. This has been solved by transferring extra capacity from other parts of the network, however there was a limit to how much extra could be transferred using the current system, this extra capacity may not be enough in the future as the town and demand grows. Building the ‘giant battery’ was a cheaper method than adding extra capacity by other means. It reduces the need to create additional power lines feeding the substation and removed the need to install new transformers on the site. There was an area of ground adjacent to the substation already owned by UK Power Networks so, although planning permission was required the space was already available plus the site had the necessary infrastructure without the need for much additional work. In addition, the extra land available meant that a full upgrade with a new transformer could be added in future when the battery comes to the end of its useful life and further new capacity is required. Although it is possible to add extra capacity to the battery in the future there is a limit to how much can be added.

Alternative sites were considered in Cambridgeshire and Kent but after evaluation Leighton Buzzard was the preferred site. The battery could have been built elsewhere in Leighton Buzzard and five other sites in the town were also evaluated but none had the advantages of the Woodman Close site.

Although Leighton Buzzard was the preferred site, there were some disadvantages not least was the land at Woodman Close is located in a high risk flood location as it borders Clipstone Brook on one side. For this reason the installation had to be raised above the ground to allow any flood water to pass under the building to protect the installation and also to allow the water to pass freely to minimise flood risk around the site. This is why local residents had been subjected to the pounding noise as piles were driven into the ground to support the weight of the raised building. According to a flood-risk assessment of the site the 100-year worst-case predicted flood levels were estimated at around 0.66 meters, therefore this would be the minimum height the building needed to be raised. However any space under a building less than 2 meters is classed as a confined space (as defined by UK Power Networks safety policies ) and this would mean additional measures would need to be employed when carrying out maintenance or other work to ensure the safety of staff. For this reason the building was designed 2 meters above ground.

Leighton Buzzard Battery A second consideration was that the site is in the middle of a residential area and adjacent to a school so it needed to be visually acceptable to the residents of Woodman Close and obviously needed to be safe. A number of different battery designs were available but Lithium Ion was chosen for safety. For added security a 3 meter high fence was placed around the site with a 1.2 meter high secondary fence placed 2 meters inside the first. No trees were planted within 2 meters of the fence to stop people climbing the trees to get over the fences. The building has no windows and is fitted with high security doors. The site has CCTV and a fire alarm and suppression system. To reduce the visual impact for residents, the building housing the battery and related equipment is single story with a sloping roof, the low part of the roof faces Woodman Close (6.6m high). At its tallest the building is 8.3 meters high. The overall size of the building (floor plan) is approximately 40 meters x 20 meters. Landscaping was planted around the building to screen it and the building is clad in shades of green to help it blend with the landscaping.

Although the additional land already belonged to UK Power Networks it was reserved for green-space according to Central Bedfordshire Council’s Local Plan Review Policy, this meant planning permission had to be obtained from the council. In November 2012, before applying for planning permission, UK Power Networks sent 100 leaflets to local residents and businesses and to the adjacent school. By the end of the month, 17 had been returned with comments or concerns. Most of the concerns were about how the finished site would look. Two thirds wanted better screening with more and taller trees to hide the building further. One third of responses were concerned about safety – were chemicals being used in the installation, will there be electrical emissions, what type of security lighting will be used and what happens to displaced water in the event of flooding?

Planning consent was granted by the council on 7 June 2013. Interestingly, the council had included a provision in the consent relating to the extra land on the site still left after construction was complete. Under the agreement UK Power Networks are to lease to Central Bedfordshire Council the remaining land not used in the development for recreational/leisure purposes of the local community. This lease is for 99 years with a break clause any time after 20 years and UK Power Networks also agreed to make a one off financial contribution towards the upkeep of the land. The agreement also required that a 5 meter strip of land between the site and the brook was to be transferred to the council for producing a cycle path in the future if they chose to do so. However some of the residents who responded to the leaflets did not want the cycle path as they were worried about the impact of cyclists on the wildlife and how the path would affect the soak away during flooding. They were also concerned about anti social behaviour as the path would be concealed behind the building.

The site is not permanently manned and only requires occasional visits by engineers. They arrive in vans and park inside the site. External lighting is used for safety and security but this has been designed to face downwards to reduce light spread. The site requires constant air conditioning to cool the installation but the vents are placed on the opposite side of the building to the road to reduce the noise for residents.

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UK Power Networks
Design and planning considerations for large-scale distribution-connected energy storage (SNS1.2)
Low Carbon Networks Fund