Pivot Power’s maiden 50MW battery and electric vehicle charging hub could be set for Southampton after the first planning documents appeared for the company’s proposed 2GW nationwide network.
But despite presenting the plans to the market last month as a combined energy storage and EV solution to accelerate the take-up of low carbon transport, the first documents to appear in Test Valley Council’s planning database includes no mention of charging infrastructure.
The battery storage facility, if approved, will be located on National Grid land adjacent to the existing 400kV Nursling Substation, where it will be connected directly to the transmission grid.
The 49.9MW site, just off Station Road to the south of the M27, will comprise 25 containerised batteries that will seek to utilise the advantages of the higher level connection to provide frequency response and other ancillary services to National Grid.
In place of specific mention of EV chargers connected to the site, the documents merely state that the site, as part of a “programme of installed batteries”, will provide “significant opportunities for councils” to implement their EV strategies.
When asked by Current± why Pivot Power’s original proclamations of a national network of high speed chargers and large-scale batteries was not reflected in planning, COO Matthew Boulton explained that this was simply a feature of getting the project underway quickly.
“The battery is the first stage and it unlocks everything; without a battery project we don't have an EV project. A big battery next to a big substation is, we hope, a relatively uncontroversial development so we're keeping the first piece nice and well boundaried to get it through,” he said.
“In Southampton the National Grid land is there and from a lease point of view we can get cracking fairly quickly. [We want] to secure the battery and know it has approval before we also spend a lot of money on planning of EV hubs.”
Also speaking to Current± last week was Pivot Power’s head of planning Martin Cole, who added: “We need to very much limit our discussions with the planning authority specifically to the application that has been submitted.
“What we are doing however is pulling together the wider people from the planning authority - strategic planners, transport developers; everyone with an interest in taking forward a council's economic development interest. Initially it’s just a follow-up series of meetings in which we are discussing the prospect and what the council is actually looking to achieve in its EV strategy.”
Boulton continued: “It becomes a kind of twin-track. The discussions around the planning application with the planning officer are very specific around the battery. They're aware of course that we are intending to take a cable off site but that's not part of the application.
“We're opening up discussions not just with the planning officer but a broader group of stakeholders among the council to see what interest and existing plans they have that we can help accelerate.
“It's early days [but] the councils we have engaged with so far have started to discuss the EV piece and they could not be more excited.”
Stand-alone batteries would ‘drop down the list’
However, this ‘twin-track’ approach means that there could be instances where Pivot Power will have its large-scale battery approved but the follow-up EV charging project could be turned down.
While Boulton accepts this possibility, with the battery remaining a valuable asset owing to its transmission connection, access to lower cost energy and other revenue streams such as the Balancing Mechanism, he added that such a project would not be a priority within the rollout of the planned national network.
“By the time planning permission would be coming through and we start engaging with councils, I can imagine a scenario where, if we're getting really negative signals from the councils about the EV side of things even though the battery is coming through, that site drops down the list.”
These instances are not expected to occur often, with Pivot’s preliminary discussions with councils associated with the 45 sites suggesting that interest is high in the opportunities presented by the battery and charging combination.
A second project is currently being scoped in Cornwall on land directly adjacent to National Grid’s existing 400kV electricity substation in Landulph, Saltash. While only screening documents have been published, with similar battery project footprints to the Southampton proposal the documents make known the intention to use the battery to support EV charging in the future, stating the project would “open up a new dimension of mass-scale electric vehicle (EV) charging opportunities”.
However, Current± understands that this second project is less advanced than that in Test Valley as there is less availability of land near the National Grid site.
Building out at pace
Assuming the former application is approved, Pivot expects the battery project to be commissioned within 12 months owing to the size of the development. While Bolton concedes that the company needs more time to develop its relationships with the supply chain and private landowners from whom to secure leasing or land rights, the EV charging hubs should appear soon after.
“We would expect to have the EV [chargers] operational if not on that 12 months dot, at least within 3 months - or 6 months maximum - after that,” he said.
"We're not sticking 100 chargers in but the sites will have 100 car parking bays and we're taking enough power so that over time they can all have rapid chargers.”
Bolton added that the company wanted to “make a statement” with the number of chargers it will initially seek to install, with “closer to 50 than 10” charge points of various speeds planned in the short-term.
These are expected to be located within 5km of the substation and battery in a convenient location for drivers. In the case of Southampton, there could be even less distance between the two owing to the projects close proximity to major roads and Southampton itself.
For the remaining projects within Pivot’s 45-site programme, the company is understood to be submitting planning documents in batches with a plan to deliver ten projects a year. The company is liaising with National Grid’s property team to see where they have space to accommodate the batteries and maximise the revenue from its own sites via lease options with Pivot Power.
Pivot Power’s chief technology officer Michael Clark will be speaking about the company’s plans, as well leading a wider discussion on powering the EV revolution, at next week’s EV Infrastructure Summit.
Hosted by Current±’s publisher Solar Media, tickets are still available to attend the two-day conference on 3&4 July and can be purchased here, where you can also find a full programme and list of speakers.