(Credit: Flickr @ Graham Richardson

The UK’s first 2 MW lithium titanate battery will be connected to the electrical grid later this year, as part of new research as a part of a research effort to tackle energy storage challenges.

The project, involving Aston University, aims to test the technological and economic challenges of using large scale batteries to provide support to the grid.

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Energy generators worldwide are increasingly looking at installing large scale batteries, mainly for storing excess electricity from renewable sources, but their high capital costs and uncertainties over how they might work commercially has meant uptake of the technology is still low.

The research team believe that batteries could provide a cheap and easily automated way to store excess energy from the grid and respond quickly in times of high demand. The giant battery will form part of a new 11kV Grid Connected Energy Storage Research Demonstrator based at the Willenhall primary substation, near Wolverhampton in the West Midlands, which is part of the Western Power Distribution’s network. The demonstrator, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is due to open in October 2014, will also test the viability of used electric vehicle battery packs for domestic or industrial electricity storage.

Dr Dani Strickland from Aston University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, said: “The background research for this facility has been undertaken over a number of years as an industry and academia partnership and it will be exciting to see what this hardware can achieve at a reasonable size level.”

Professor Dave Stone from the University of Sheffield’s Faculty of Engineering, which is leading the project, said: “Large scale batteries could reduce the need to keep energy generators on standby to respond to peaks in demand, but it’s as yet unclear how this might be best managed commercially. Because this is a dedicated research facility, we’ll be able to explore the advantages of grid connected energy storage in a real operating environment, but without commercial constraints. We’ll be able to openly assess the impacts of the technology on our energy infrastructure, which should ensure faster adoption by the sector, to help improve how the grid functions and its overall stability.”

The lithium titanate battery—supplied by Toshiba—was chosen because it is faster to charge, longer lasting and much safer than its common alternative, lithium ion, particularly in terms of reduced fire risk. It will be the largest battery of its type installed in the UK.

The research involves both industrial and academic partners: the Universities of Sheffield, Aston and Southampton, Toshiba, distribution network operators Western Power Distribution, power and automation technology company ABB, specialist equipment housing supplier Portastor, electrical engineering specialists Sterling Power Utilities, electronic engineering consultants Converter Technology, and civil engineers Alpha Construction.

Feasibility studies for this project were funded by both the TSB and DECC and additional partner organizations in all projects include G&P Batteries, Energy Cost Advisors Ltd, Renault and Tata Motors European Technical Center (TMETC).