Securing planning for 250MW of BESS capacity in 2022 reveals that there is still a lot of public misconception around energy storage to be clarified

on 13 February 2023

The past year has been a significant one for Cambridge Power, which has seen the company evolve into one of the UK’s leading energy storage developers, at the forefront of supporting the UK’s transition to Net Zero by 2050.

In December 2021, the company entered into a Framework Agreement with Brookfield Renewable to develop a portfolio of battery energy storage system (BESS) sites across the UK. The pipeline totals more than 800MW of fully consented BESS assets and 185MW of co-located solar for investment over the next five years.

As part of this agreement, Brookfield will provide significant capital to construct the portfolio of assets. Cambridge Power will manage the construction and operation of the assets with projects commencing construction in mid-2023 and energisation to follow.

Planning progress

The 100MW Bramford BESS project (Suffolk), the 50MW Lawford (Essex), the 50MW Lemington (Newcastle) and 50MW Flag Fen (Peterborough) all secured planning permission in the last 6 months, an essential requirement for them to progress to final investment decisions ahead of construction.

With planning permission, Bramford has been sold to SMS Plc as part of an original agreement with the company. When built, which is subject to National Grid Statement of Works still, Bramford will be one of the largest BESS facilities operational in the UK.

Securing planning permission for a project of this size was no mean feat. Two issues that came up during the process, are worth discussing, since they may be encountered by other BESS projects seeking planning permission.

Challenging perceptions around energy storage

·        Public confusion over role of energy storage

Lack of public awareness around energy storage continues to fuel a perception that BESS projects are another form of renewable energy, like solar or wind farms. This issue has been more acute in the planning process for Bramford where there are several live solar planning applications in the area.

While public acceptance of wind and solar farms has been steadily rising, at a local planning level there can be a misapprehension that BESS projects are renewable energy sites. This lack of distinction could be at the expense of projects successfully securing planning permission. Energy storage systems do not generate energy. They are designed to absorb and discharge electricity into the grid at certain times and, as such, have a critical role to play in providing flexibility – a resource that grids need more of as more variable, distributed wind and solar generation is connected and more large fossil fuel-burning power plants are retired. Capturing wind energy at night for example when the grid sees it lowest use of electricity nationally is a key attribute to a battery storage facility, enabling renewable energies to continue to operate unhindered.

For the energy storage industry, not to mention policymakers, National Grid and distribution network operators (DNOs), there is clearly work to be done to ensure that people are aware that if we want a lot more of our energy to come from homegrown renewable sources, which will lead to lower bills and more energy security, then storage technologies, like batteries, are the critical piece of the jigsaw to make it happen. It reveals a pressing need for an overseeing industry body to support companies within the energy storage sector and also for National Grid to accelerate the way it treats battery storage connecting to its network as an enabler to delivering NetZero and not an added contributor to peak generation and demand issues as it is currently perceived and modelled sadly.

·        Perceptions around fire risk

Incidents of fires at BESS installations are widely reported even though they are highly unusual in comparison to the number of energy storage installations operating globally. It seems that news reports of such incidents, in South Korea, Arizona and in the UK (Liverpool), continue to influence perceptions of BESS installations as carrying high fire risks.

Careful, responsible BESS developments minimise and mitigate this potential in a number of ways, including through overall design of the site and separation of battery containers and balance of plant equipment, inclusion of fire walls the design of BESS projects, as well as use of venting, cooling, remote and continuous online monitoring, early detection and warning sensors and automatic fire suppression systems. Having in-house staff and partner contractors with experience and knowledge of working with BESS technologies is critical to ensure projects are designed, developed, built and operated to meet all aspects of health & safety. 

Gearing up for growth

Looking ahead for the year Cambridge Power is set to go from strength to strength. Brookfield’s investment and partnership has provided a great opportunity, for an expanded remit for a much larger portfolio in the UK. We’re gearing up for delivering the pipeline by investing in people.

James Dix joined as Chief Financial Officer in February 2022 and we’re able to benefit from his wealth of experience, from working at Drax Group and MAG, where he held several senior financial roles including senior vice president of finance for the newly created biomass manufacturing business in the USA for Drax and heading up the airport transformation programme at Stansted.

By end of 2023, we are planning to have 1.5-2GW entering into construction, with around 400MW of that starting during the second quarter of the year. To deliver on such ambitious targets, we’ve been growing rapidly and expect to have a team of over 30 from 16 at the end of 2022.