The end of May saw Pivot Power announce plans to build 2 GW of battery storage for the UK’s power transmission network.

The company aims to use dozens of 49.9MW batteries to balance the grid and simultaneously charge entire car parks of electric vehicles within minutes. The start-up has been facilitated by investment from Downing LLP who bring together institutional and retail investors to fund a programme that could top £1.7bn.

Chief Technology Officer Mikey Clark spoke to Power Engineering International about the ambitious project.
EV charging
“We set up Pivot Power this year specifically for the roll out of grid scale batteries combined with rapid electric vehicle (EV) charging to help support the decarbonisation of the UK,” says Clark.

“This is a holistic solution where we install 2 GW of battery storage across England, Wales and further afield. In time, the batteries will be a commercial entity in themselves and support the grid in terms of ancillary services and trading energy day ahead, intraday or the balancing mechanism itself.”

“These batteries are key in getting us directly connected to the transmission system. Also- absorbing heavy upfront costs of getting access to that multimegawatt power on each site, and then partnering each one of those sites with new equally rapid charging stations, which we’ll be be developing, effectively, at super hubs. It enables us get access to lots and lots of power and to support the current roll out of EVs over the coming years.”

Pivot Power is a privately-owned start-up with Downing acting as highly-influential backers. Downing has put £500m into renewables since 2010 and will be supporting Pivot’s development budget and fundraising for the much bigger capex required to roll out the whole network.

Clark says Pivot were fully mindful of the problems electric vehicle charging sets out to solve, such as range anxiety and costs, in planning stage.

“We have from the outset always had a commitment that we’d make it transparent. It was crucial to access grid capacity at the volumes we require and better enable us to get rid of those concerns consumers have. Research showing range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure, the car itself, have been the key impediments to EV uptake. By taking that away and making sure EVs now and in the future don’t have those concerns, we help maintain continuity and solve the problem.”

The business model ensures more access to best price of energy and the scale to go on the transmission network makes the company all the more investible.

Clark says Pivot looks to create a virtuous circle where the batteries enable them get access to the transmission system and give them the power to create large scale EV charging.

“Then completing the virtuous circle, EV charging revenues in the future are fair and transparent and feed back into the business model and enhances it plus plus.”

“We have got a commitment to making it cheap and affordable. Access to transmission electricity gives us options that haven’t been used before. We can unload electricity to energy intensive users at a very competitive price.”

The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission has set out the need for EV charging networks in its grand strategic plan to optimise the country’s economy in the decades ahead, and it is playing a part in motivating investment.

“At the moment, the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) has had a number of pilot schemes focused on a council level at facilitating charging- there are also discussions happening to do with match funding with fund managers deployed to this but its in the millions rather than billions so a modest amount. The support available is primarily for pilot projects. Obviously we are lobbying but want it to be done without subsidy.”

“A lot of it is commercially sensitive but we are also in discussions with the motor companies and we expect them to play a part whether it’s in manufacturing autos or networks.”

On the continent some EV charging initiatives are already high profile such as through Enel in Italy and E.ON in Germany. So far, there hasn’t been such large initiatives in the UK, says Clark.

“There are a number of network operators that have been around for a good number of years but approaching it from a purely charging network aspect has proven quite difficult. We are looking at it on a first principles basis where we look at abundance of power because the last thing we want is to have constraints.”

Does bidirectional charging appeal?

“I would never close the door on anything but to be honest it’s not on our radar at the moment as we have the most flexibility-oriented asset possible with a 50 MW battery which is sharing a connection with the cars. I think vehicle to grid is lower down the low voltage networks – people are more interested in scale.”

“We see the grid mix becoming more and more intermittent and the kind of support flexible assets offer will increase over time.”