High-tech electricity project coming to Swansea
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
It has a gas compressor station, reservoirs, a water treatment works and was once home to a large tinplate works – Felindre, north of Swansea, is synonymous with industry and energy.
Now a chunk of land south-east of the village itself is to play a role in stabilising our electricity supply.
Norwegian energy company Statkraft has planning permission for what it terms a greener grid park, comprising two large rotating stabilisers, batteries and inverters, kept within a 109 by 100m compound.
It’s a mix of engineering and tech which essentially act as a shock absorber to provide stability when there are sudden fluctuations in the grid, for example a power station going offline or a problem with a high voltage cable.
Guy Nicholson, head of grid integration at Statkraft UK, said when such events happened, gas-fired power stations had to be cranked up to provide the necessary “inertia and voltage control”.
It’s a complicated subject, but Mr Nicholson said a by-product of the gas power switch-on was too much power for a period of time, meaning renewable sources like wind had to be switched off. The upshot? More carbon emissions.
With National Grid aiming to operate a zero-carbon electricity network by 2025, and the UK aiming to be a net zero emitter by 2050, a stable network is a prized asset.
This is particularly the case as the increasing proportion of renewable electricity feeding into the UK grid can leave it lacking enough inertia and voltage control in the right places. Unstable grids are more susceptible to blackouts.
Mr Nicholson cited an example in the UK when there was enough wind and solar power to match demand on one particular day, but National Grid had to switch on 17 fossil-fuel power stations to maintain network stability.
Statkraft UK is in the process of commissioning a greener grid park in Scotland and will build the Swansea one in due course.
“We are keen to get it (the Swansea project) moving as soon as we can,” said Mr Nicholson. “One critical thing is the time-scale for a grid connection.”
Statkraft UK chose the site near Felindre because four electricity power lines converge there.
The stabilising machines will weigh around 350 tonnes each. The batteries will allow a rapid release of electricity.
Mr Nicholson said the scheme represented an investment of circa £30 million.
He said the company would like to develop a dozen grid parks in the UK.
The Swansea project was given the go-ahead by the council’s planning committee last month.
Councillors were told it would incorporate new areas of native woodland, grassland and hedges.
They asked how many jobs it would bring to the area.
A council planning officer said 77 full-time equivalent jobs were expected to be created during the peak of construction, which is anticipated to get under way in 2023. But once up and running the facility would be operated remotely, by 11 full-time equivalent staff.
Speaking after the meeting Lucy Kent, Statkraft UK’s development project manager for the project, said it was delighted with the planning approval.
“The project will help to stabilise the electricity grid which will in turn allow a wealth of renewable energy to be utilised, and ultimately save consumers money,” she said.