Building the world’s biggest hybrid battery

22 April 2021

Energy Superhub Oxford is demonstrating innovation in lots of ways, not least the construction of the world’s biggest hybrid battery and first transmission network-connected system in the UK. No small feat, and that’s before you factor in a global pandemic. We caught up with Kevin Keiley, Director at Arun Construction Services, to hear how the battery is progressing.

Tell us about Arun Construction Services

Arun Construction Services have been operational for over 30 years and we’ve been heavily involved in the renewable sector for 12 or so years now, initially on solar PV projects, including domestic and commercial roof mounts, and now large-scale commercial ground mounts. More recently we’ve moved into battery storage, obviously working on Energy Superhub Oxford with Pivot Power, but also some other interesting projects, including with West Sussex County Council, where we combined a 7.5MW solar farm with a 5MW battery on a closed landfill site.

What role is Arun Construction Services playing in Energy Superhub Oxford?

We’re the principal contractor and the balance of plant contractor for the hybrid battery system that’s being installed as part of Energy Superhub Oxford. Broadly speaking we are responsible for designing the balance of plant elements for the battery project from the ground up, which is everything from the piling, the concrete structure, the steel structure, the 33kV switchgear and substations, the control substations and the transformers. And incorporating that with the battery for the commission and energisation of the system, and the day-to-day running of the site and delivery of it.

What makes the project innovative?

This project is a first of its kind, as far as I’m aware, delivering a transmission-connected hybrid battery system which consists of 50MW of lithium-ion alongside 2MW of vanadium flow, which have been provided by Wartsila and Invinity Energy Systems respectively. By operating them together, Pivot Power will gain the best of both technologies and be able to provide services to National Grid and beyond.

What challenges have you faced?

Firstly, the fact that it’s a hybrid system, and directly connected to the transmission system on the National Grid side has proven challenging in itself, because it’s a first of its kind in terms of the design requirements and all of the compliance requirements that go around that.

And secondly, it’s quite a small site, which has created some space constraints. As a result, the lithium-ion batteries are double-stacked, and we had to design and install the structural framework to allow this, including concrete piles, a structural concrete slab on top of that, plus the steel framework that supports them.

What are you working on right now?

The project is in the commissioning phase now, so we’re working really closely with all parties involved, including Wartsila, Invinity Energy Systems, National Grid, and of course Pivot Power, to ensure that all the interfaces are covered and that a smooth commissioning process can be achieved right the way through to energisation of the project.

What impact has COVID-19 had on the project?

COVID-19 has had a large impact on how we’ve approached the site and how we’ve operated across the board. We’ve implemented additional measures to ensure a safe working environment for everyone. This includes COVID-specific pre-induction processes, temperature checks at the main entrance gate, additional PPE, face-masks and gloves, and hand sanitiser placement all around the site. Requirements we’ve all had to adapt to over the last 12 months. But implementing that on a construction site has been a particular challenge because it’s a total break from the norm. But everyone has bought into it, and we have been very fortunate we’ve not had a single case on site.

What excites you most about Energy Superhub Oxford?

Energy Superhub Oxford is a real trailblazer and to be involved in the battery element has been really exciting. The hybrid battery system, the EV charging hub, the ground source heating; the whole package. I think Oxford City Council have been really forward-thinking and ambitious, and hopefully it’s going to create a model that can be replicated nationwide, and further afield.

What changes do you hope to see in the energy sector over the next decade?

I think the pace of change will be huge, and we’ll see sweeping changes in how people purchase energy, with people buying warmth and power as opposed to a kilowatt-hour of electricity or a BTU of gas, which doesn’t really mean anything to anyone. There are already service providers offering these energy-as-a-service models and I think they’ll become more prevalent with the continued digitalisation of energy.

What do you think are the biggest challenges that we need to overcome?

The fact that around 80% of greenhouse gases in Europe are still emitted from energy, from vehicle transport, from industry, are things that need to change. We need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy and the uptake and deployment of new technologies like storage, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies, is key. We’re heading in the right direction, but the challenges are vast.

What gives you the most cause for optimism?

I think there have been sweeping changes in people’s beliefs around how important environmental issues are, from governments down to individuals, and I think that’s going to continue, whether it’s the big-level stuff at COP26 or Greta Thunberg doing her bit. It’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind, and if everyone has got that understanding and desire for change, then it’s easier to achieve, and that’s cause for optimism.

Do you see any positives coming out of lockdown for the low-carbon transition?

I’m quite hopeful that the pandemic has given people the opportunity to think about how they live and realise that they don’t necessarily need as much international travel or other types of consumption. If that can help drive a green recovery, with backing from Government, then I hope we can come out the other side of COVID-19 with a lot of positives.


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