Cambridge Power CEO: ‘Planning process is frustrating storage sector’

Could this be a match made in heaven? After some time spent searching for the perfect partner, UK grid-scale energy storage developer Cambridge Power announced last month that it had entered into a framework agreement with Brookfield Renewable to develop a portfolio of battery energy storage system sites across the UK.

March 11, 2022

  • Cambridge Power and Brookfield Renewable have agreed partnership
  • Cambridge Power CEO Giles Hanglin says deal provides ‘serious buying power’
  • But he adds planning process and National Grid are causing frustration

Could this be a match made in heaven?

After some time spent searching for the perfect partner, UK grid-scale energy storage developer Cambridge Power announced last month that it had entered into a framework agreement with Brookfield Renewable to develop a portfolio of battery energy storage system sites across the UK.

Prior to the link-up with Brookfield, Cambridge Power had considered strategies for financing energy storage projects itself, but this proved challenging as talks with green capital providers ran into obstacles. Changing tack, the company approached Savills – the company where Cambridge Power CEO Giles Hanglin formerly ran the national energy team – with a view to asking for help in finding a partner.

Savills was successful in brokering a deal with Brookfield. Under the terms of the deal, Cambridge Power and Brookfield have agreed to develop – on an exclusive basis – more than 800MW of fully consented BESS assets and 185MW of co-located solar over the next five years. As part of the agreement, Brookfield will provide “significant capital” to construct the portfolio of assets.

The agreement will see Cambridge Power managing the construction and operation of the assets with projects commencing construction in 2022, and energisation scheduled for 2023.

Energy Storage Report spoke to Hanglin to find out how recent political developments in Europe will impact on the demand for storage and how the partnership with Brookfield is progressing. In an engaging interview, Hanglin also discussed threats to cybersecurity, how the renewables sector is waking up to the benefits of storage and retrofitting it to wind assets, and the industry’s frustrations with the UK planning process and National Grid.

Do you think recent political events in Europe will lead to an increased drive to use energy storage around the world?

Giles Hanglin: This has been a hot topic of conversation with Brookfield in the last few days. We’re talking about this from the aspect of more rapid deployment of renewables across Europe. Brookfield has positions in a number of European countries and they’re accelerating that. Clearly there’s a massive appetite for renewable energy around the world, and that all needs storage to make it happen. You can’t deploy these renewables and have energy coming into grids at the wrong times without storage there to balance it. This could increase the duration that people think about. Everybody’s now looking at two hours now, but I think they may look at longer than that again. It doesn’t suit the UK at the moment, but there are certain equipment suppliers only setting themselves up now to produce two-hours plus solutions.

Another thing being talked about in the industry is security, and that’s cybersecurity. It’s easy to come through the backdoor of software. Where we are giving external providers, the optimiser, the aggregator or the software guys external access, there needs to be watertight security. Brookfield have done quite a bit around that, around their wind farms and they have their own security package.

Do you think it is widely understood that renewable projects should, ideally, always include storage?

GH: If you look at the nature of the availability of grid connections, and I’m talking about the UK at the moment, specifically England and Scotland, there is no room on the grid for pure generation-only without the ability to load shift through storage or the ability to use that storage strategically. Certainly in the east of England, National Grid have really put brakes on issuing statement of works for UK power networks connections because events have overtaken them. With all the volume of offshore wind coming in, and all the volume of micro connectors and general micro generators, they really haven’t modelled it properly on the grid and don’t understand it. Now, battery storage is the answer for that.

I cannot understand people approaching pure generation projects in this day and age, knowing the way that the grid needs to operate and knowing that they are totally inflexible in terms of when they can supply energy, and that they need the grid to become flexible. They [renewables and storage] are hand in hand and we are starting to see some retrofit of storage on wind assets, gas turbine assets and some thermal assets as well.

What is the latest with the Brookfield joint venture?

GH: We’ve set up various steering group companies. They [Brookfield] are very engaging, very supportive, and yet don’t wish to take over, which is really good – they see us as the specialists on this. We are able to access their ability to procure equipment. They have teams in China, for example, they are procuring for all their global projects. This gives us some serious buying power.

All of the 800MW projects will be in mainland Britain. Projects in the East of England dominate, that’s purely because we started here and we focused on really hitting east of England hard two and a half years ago when we started. We’ve organically acquired projects up in Scotland now, and probably through central England, up into north England, though we have a void at the moment in the Midlands region and the south and southwest.

What are the biggest challenges you face in the day to day running of the business?

GH: The two biggest challenges are, firstly, the timelines that planning is taking, the ability to get projects quickly through the system and into construction and operation. The hold ups through the planning process. And the fact it isn’t yet written into legislation properly is quite a frustration. I know all energy developers are experiencing the same thing, particularly when you go at scale on solar. There are some major delays and projects are taking not the statutory three months, but 12 months, maybe more. We’re certainly seeing battery projects taking somewhere between six and nine months rather than the statutory three months. And there’s no acceptable reason for it being the case.

The second biggest challenge is the grid. The grid is a frustration as well given that it has this inherent need for what we’re doing. National Grid certainly have just not kept up with pace of play. And they suddenly put the handbrake on certain projects by just not really having done their studies on the grid and forecasted all of this coming through. The volume of generation coming onto network has just not been modelled. And frustratingly, they haven’t been modelling batteries to assist in that deployment. They’ve been modelling batteries to exacerbate the problem by batteries being deployed and operating at the same time as this peak generation. And it just doesn’t make any sense at all. And it baffles everybody, everybody is hitting their heads against the wall and getting quite angry about it because they are not acting in a very facilitating way.

What do you think will be the emerging trends in storage in the coming year?

GH: Given the speed at which lithium can come to the market because of the ways it’s manufactured and procured, there is a lot of pressure at the moment on other storage mediums, particularly the likes of sodium, some of the flow batteries, zincs, aluminium, but they’re just not investible at the moment because they haven’t been proven with a track record. So I think you’ll see lithium LFP technology, that’s the acceptable technology now with the lowest fire risk and the most acceptability from an investment perspective. The next time we change those batteries in maybe six to ten years, it will be a different storage medium. Another challenge down the road will be infrastructure pressure in terms of size of sites, for example. I know iron flow batteries are much bigger, but I’m sure these will condense. I know there’s a lot of work being done on alternative fuels, but I just don’t see that as viable as storage at the moment.

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