Biggest battery in Europe set to land on British shores

The UK's mega battery will absorb wind power when it is surplus to requirements. [Photo: richardjohnson / Shutterstock]

Oil and gas giant Shell has plans for a 100-megawatt grid storage battery in the west of England. It is slated to be the biggest battery in Europe once it is completed later this year and will be crucial to the UK’s quest to remain the continent’s top wind power player.

The battery project in the county of Wiltshire aims to store renewable power in two 50MW cells and then sell it to consumers when demand and prices are high.

“Projects like this will be vital for balancing the UK’s electricity demand and supply as wind and solar power play bigger roles in powering our lives,” said Shell Energy Europe vice president David Wells.

“Batteries are uniquely suited to optimising power supplies as the UK moves towards a net-zero carbon system,” he added. It is the Dutch firm’s latest attempt to diversify its business holdings away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable energy.

Chinese investment fund CNIC and state-run utility Huaneng Group will build the battery but Shell insists neither will be involved with its day-to-day operations once construction is completed.

The battery will hold enough juice to power 10,000 homes for a single day once fully charged, given that UK energy regulator Ofgem says that a typical household needs about 10 kilowatts every 24-hour period.

Macron cuts ribbon on first battery mega-project

French President Emmanuel Macron attended on Thursday (30 January) the ground-breaking ceremony for a new battery factory in southwest France: the first real result of an EU-led policy aimed at boosting the industry and helping it withstand global competitors.

Grid storage batteries are set to gain in popularity as countries increase the capacity of variable energy sources like wind and solar power, in order to meet both national and EU climate targets.

For EU member states, a collective target of 32% clean energy use is in force for 2030 and might even be tightened by the new European Commission, which has pledged to look again at all climate and energy legislation by the end of 2021.

The UK is no longer a member of the bloc but it does have an existing commitment to reduce its greenhouse emissions to a net-zero level by 2050, meaning the government will continue to build renewable energy capacity.

Blow hard

At an event on offshore wind in Brussels on Wednesday (19 February), CEO of industry group WindEurope Giles Dickson insisted that the UK will hang on to its title as Europe’s leader in harnessing the power of the winds.

“The UK has to build offshore wind farms and huge volumes of them. They’re not building as much nuclear as they’d hoped, nor gas, and its 2030 target has increased from 30 gigawatts to 40,” he explained.

That means the UK will have to build 3GW of capacity every year over the course of this decade to hit its new benchmark, which is the same amount the entire EU is building annually at the moment.

Offshore wind boom 'not enough' to reach EU climate goals

A record 3.6 gigawatts of new offshore wind capacity was added across Europe in 2019, but the pace of deployment is still too slow to reach Europe’s ambitious climate targets, according to new industry figures published on Thursday (6 February).

But the looming Brexit talks could curtail British ambitions if negotiations break down, as the UK is a net importer of wind equipment. It also aims to up exports of homemade products like blades and turbines.

“It is very important that we avoid tariffs on any offshore equipment,” Dickson said when asked about Brexit’s impact on the sector. Commission renewables head Paula Abreu Marques said she cannot preempt what the talks will involve but confirmed it is an area they will touch upon.

UK involvement in regional planning is already on shaky ground, after it emerged earlier in February that its membership of the North Sea Energy Cooperation platform (NSEC) had lapsed.

EU climate chief Frans Timmermans told Dutch media after the news broke: “I really don’t think it’s necessary to remove the British. If you want to arrange things properly in the North Sea, you need the British too.”

NSEC brings together nine countries, including non-EU state Norway, where decisions on grid investments, auctions and spatial planning are all hashed out. It is seen as an important forum as plans to install new wind farms with links to several countries crystallise.

“The remaining nine countries want the UK to be very closely involved. We have to find a way for that to happen,” Dickson insisted at the close of the event.

British involvement will likely depend on the course taken by the upcoming Brexit talks, due to start in March. NSEC decisions inform EU energy policymaking, so if the UK decides to diverge completely from bloc rules, there will be less chance of collaboration in the future.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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