Europe's biggest battery energy storage system is 'essential to making net zero a reality'

The system, which uses Tesla technology, went online earlier than originally planned due to predicted energy shortages.
Chris Young
The Pillswood Project
The Pillswood Project

Harmony Energy 

As the world faces climate catastrophe and an ongoing energy crisis caused by Russia's war in Ukraine, Western countries are turning to novel solutions to ease the burden ahead of the winter months.

The acceleration of some of these solutions due to energy shortages could have the added benefit of speeding up the energy transition. Take Europe's largest battery energy storage system, for example, which recently began operations on November 22, near the northeastern English city of Hull.

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The Pillswood Project system utilizes a Tesla 2-hour Megapack, allowing it to store up to 196MWh of electricity in a single cycle. The site operator, Harmony Energy, claims it can hold enough power for 300,000 homes for two hours.

The start of operations for Pillswood highlights how the global response to the current geopolitical situation could lead to long-lasting benefits — namely, a massive boost to renewable energy technologies.

In an interview with IE, Harmony Energy CEO Peter Kavanagh explained that his company's "ability to store clean energy and stabilize the grid networks is essential to making net zero a reality and replacing fossil fuel generators." 

Massive UK energy system goes online

Harmony Energy's facility was initially meant to go fully online in March, but the start of operations was brought forward due to the ongoing energy crisis in the UK. However, the main long-term goal for the company is to help the country accelerate the transition to clean energy.

The Pillswood system stores electricity generated via renewable energy sources, including solar farms and wind turbines, to release it at times of high demand so as to lessen the burden on the grid.

"Harmony Energy builds, owns, and operates renewable energy assets – solar, wind, and battery energy storage systems (BESS)," Kavanagh said. "BESS is the main focus of our business and is critical in enabling more low-cost intermittent renewable energy (wind and solar) onto the network.

"The National Grid forecasts that we need at least x10 the current amount of energy storage online by 2030," he added. "We are delivering this without any taxpayer-funded subsidies, which is crucial to enabling UK energy security and reducing UK energy pricing long term."

The Pillswood facility was built next to a local National Grid substation, which will also be connected to the world's largest offshore wind farm, Dogger Bank, once it goes operational in the North Sea in a few years. The system uses Tesla AI software, developed for its energy storage systems, to link energy distribution and demand.

Tesla technology helps power the UK energy transition

The company's energy system was designed by UK-based renewable power firm Harmony Energy, though it also uses third-party artificial intelligence-enabled technology developed by Tesla.

That technology is the electric vehicle company's energy storage system, Megapack, which features battery modules, a thermal management system, an AC main breaker, bi-directional inverters, and controls.

Megapack's artificial intelligence software "ensures the grid remains stable and within the required frequency, therefore preventing blackouts," Kavanagh said. It also "ensures the systems are managed on a millisecond response time to maximize efficiencies."

"We have a strong working relationship with Tesla. We are their largest customer in Europe," he added. "We have 42MW/84MWh BESS operating in addition to the 98MW/196MWh at Pillswood plus another 411MW in build today. All using Tesla technology. We were also the first company in Europe to use Tesla's Megapack technology on our first site, Holes Bay, in 2020."

New project will "play a major role" in the energy transition

Essentially, Harmony Energy believes battery energy storage systems are essential to unlocking the full potential of renewable energy technologies. Its system can also help amid widespread energy concerns ahead of the cold winter months.

In October, the UK energy regulator Ofgem warned that there is a "significant risk" of energy shortages in the country this winter, mainly due to the impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine on global gas distribution. That's why Harmony Energy launched its energy system forward to support the National Grid ahead of the winter.

While Harmony Energy currently operates solely in the UK, other countries are also turning to novel energy storage solution systems. Germany, for example, is heavily reliant on Russian gas and is facing similar challenges. The country recently announced the rapid construction of a "steel thermos" tower in Berlin that will be the largest heat storage facility in Europe. It will help German citizens through the winter by holding energy in the form of 14.8 million gallons (56 million liters) of hot water to cut the country's reliance on Russian gas. 

Kavanagh believes more can still be done. "The grid is the main barrier [to speeding up the energy transition] in the UK," he said. "We need a lot more upgrades to make the most of the network."

The scientific consensus now is that the world is already experiencing the adverse effects of climate change, and we could face climate catastrophe if industries don’t reduce their carbon footprint and act to reduce global warming. Companies like Harmony Energy are helping to build the infrastructure that could allow us to avert the worst effects from happening.