Yorkshire is playing leading role in developing battery storage market, says Richard Cave-Bigley

It’s a question which might perplex anyone who cares about the fate of the planet.

How do you use solar and wind power on days when the skies are grey and the air is still? The answer can be found by visiting two sites in Yorkshire which will ensure the UK gets full value from its investment in green energy.

SSE Renewables is building one of the UK’s largest battery energy storage system (BESS) projects in Monk Fryston, a small village in North Yorkshire which was once owned by Selby Abbey.

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Richard Cave-Bigley, the director of Solar & Battery at SSE Renewables, believes battery technology will play a crucial role in Britain's energy transition.

Richard Cave-Bigley,  Director, Solar and Battery at SSE Renewables, during a tour of the (BESS) construction site in Ferrybridge. (Photo by Stuart Nicol Photography)Richard Cave-Bigley,  Director, Solar and Battery at SSE Renewables, during a tour of the (BESS) construction site in Ferrybridge. (Photo by Stuart Nicol Photography)
Richard Cave-Bigley, Director, Solar and Battery at SSE Renewables, during a tour of the (BESS) construction site in Ferrybridge. (Photo by Stuart Nicol Photography)

He added: "It's about having clean, stable, home grown and competitive energy infrastructure. We are trying to move away from the commodities which we have relied on in the past, such as gas from other parts of the world.”

SSE believes battery storage can help the UK and Ireland decarbonise on a grand scale. Batteries such as the 320MW Monk Fryston project, which can run for up to two hours at a time, will store power for release back to the UK national grid when it is needed the most.

This helps balance energy supply and demand more effectively and maximises the potential of renewable technology to power the grid, even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn't blowing.

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The site is SSE Renewables’ third BESS development to reach this stage, following projects in Salisbury, Wiltshire and Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire, which is based on a former coal power station which closed in 2016. SSE Solar and Battery is developing a vast BESS site in Ferrybridge, which seems a fitting place for a scheme of this type given its historic role in keeping Britain’s lights burning.

Ferrybridge’s giant cooling towers dominated the landscape for half a century and, at its peak, it generated enough electricity to power two million homes and employed around 800 workers.

Mr Cave-Bigley, a University of Oxford classics scholar, has global experience with businesses ranging from SSE, BP and Rio Tinto to venture-backed startups. Over the last two decades, he has specialised in helping businesses grow during a period of energy transition.

"Renewables are the cheapest forms of energy and you need storage; that's where battery comes in,’’ Mr Cave-Bigley said. “Battery storage enables us to store abundant renewables when renewables are in abundance.

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"When that power is needed the batteries put it back into the grid and allows us to make the most of our renewable energy. It also provides security to the grid. As we move to battery technology, we need new forms of technology to keep the grid stable.”

Over the last decade, while commentators have focused on the upheavals and disruption caused by Brexit and the pandemic, a green energy revolution has been quietly taking place.

Mr Cave-Bigley said: "More than 40 per cent of our energy comes from renewables, which is a remarkable achievement, given that less than 15 per cent of our energy came from renewables a decade ago.”

The decision to press ahead with work at Monk Fryston is the latest milestone in solar and battery development for SSE Renewables, which has a secured a pipeline of solar and battery projects.

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The battery will be next to National Grid’s substation in Monk Fryston. By connecting the battery to the existing transmission network, without the need for extra grid infrastructure, SSE Renewables can minimise the impact on the surrounding village and countryside, which includes 15 listed buildings.

The battery market is one area where Britain is ahead of many of its rivals.

Mr Cave-Bigley added: "Britain has been a leader in offshore wind and in developing the battery storage market. It has the biggest and most mature battery market in Europe.

"Yorkshire is part of this really exciting and growing sector. The scheme at Ferrybridge, which is more advanced than at Monk Fryston, is expected to be energised (become operational) this year. Monk Fryston is expected to be energised in late 2025.”

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These developments could also support jobs at Yorkshire-based companies.

"We will try and look to use local contractors in the building phase,’’ Mr Cave-Bigley added. “There is likely to be a lot of associated work up and down the supply chain.

"We're still a young sector and the trade associations linked with our sector are still evolving. I would encourage Yorkshire companies to engage with them and some of the leading businesses in our space."

"Yorkshire is well positioned in terms of power demand and decommissioned coal-fired stations, such as Ferrybridge, are perfect for this sort of development."

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"It is anticipated delivery of both projects could help create new economic opportunities across North and West Yorkshire, with the potential to support hundreds of roles during the construction and subsequent operation of the battery plants in the coming years to 2030 and beyond.”

He said it was possible SSE would look at other sites in Yorkshire, which has plenty of former industrial space that could be ripe for development.

"Yorkshire is a very interesting site for development,’’ he added. “We do seek to spread our assets around the country but we do see great potential in energy infrastructure in that part of the world."

Sites which could have remained empty are hives of activity as Yorkshire plays its part in a green energy revolution. The economic and environmental benefits are expected to emerge over the next decade, as our energy network becomes stronger and more self-reliant, during a time of war and international tension.

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