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Could batteries power your business for less?

Battery technology has taken massive strides forward in recent years, spurred-on by the huge investment in R&D that went into developing better batteries for our mobile phones, and then our cars. At the same time, as the market and technology has developed, economies of scale have also meant that purchase costs have reduced too.

Today, battery storage is increasingly being considered as a viable way for some businesses to reduce their energy costs, secure their energy supply, and source cleaner, greener energy – as part of Scotland’s transition to a more flexible grid. In fact, earlier this year, Scotland became home to the UK’s first-ever battery-powered hotel, when the 200-room Whitbread-owned Premier Inn at the Gyle in Edinburgh began trialling battery storage.

To find out more about the project, and what other businesses could learn from their pioneering work, we spoke to Whitbread’s Energy Manager, Ross Greenhalgh.


What prompted Whitbread to look at battery storage?

First of all, this trial is going to support Whitbread deliver on its commitment to cut carbon emissions in half by 2025, and as much as 88 per cent by 2050.

And second, it’s about cost saving and business sustainability. We have lot of hotels around the country, all running on electricity, making energy one of the business’s biggest costs. So, taking action that could reduce our energy costs makes good business sense.


Had you looked at energy efficiency measures first?

Yes. We’re already been doing lots of things in our hotels – like upgrading lighting to LEDs, voltage optimisation, staff engagement, improving controls on heating systems etc. And these actions are helping the business reduce its carbon footprint and energy costs. In fact, Premier Inn has more sites with solar panels than any other hotel chain in the UK, with 198 in total.

Battery storage is the next step for us – going beyond energy efficiency and looking at the cost and carbon-saving benefits we can get out of energy storage systems.


Why did you choose Scotland for the trial?

Scotland was selected because of its abundance of low carbon electricity. Edinburgh also met the right conditions regarding health and safety and type of energy profile: the hotel uses lots of energy at most expensive times of day – peak times.


What kind of costs savings are you anticipating?

The trial at Premier Inn at The Gyle in Edinburgh Park is expected to save the hotel £20,000 per year in energy costs. You can imagine the costs savings we could make across the whole business if we rolled this out across all our hotels.


How exactly does the battery enable you to make savings?

It’s really quite simple. Our hotels typically need energy at times when it’s at its most expensive – typically in the evenings when guests come back to relax in their rooms with their lights, heating, showers, kettles and televisions on.

By having the battery, we have the ability to store electricity on site. We can charge the battery when energy is at its cheapest, and then use that cheap energy whenever it’s needed. We can essentially use off-peak energy at peak times.

When we get smart with controls, we can get into some quite clever processes that will allow us to be really responsive and make sure we get the very cheapest energy prices, or perhaps even get paid to charge our batteries or sell energy back to support National Grid.

And of course, we have our 198 hotels with solar PV. Battery storage will make them even more valuable assets.


Have there been other benefits?

Yes, the battery and this UK-first has been a very visible statement to demonstrate our commitment the environment. People are now coming to stay with us just because of and to see the battery.

As well as reduced energy costs and giving our customers the low carbon experience they want, we have more security of electricity supply too. If there’s any intermittent problems with our power supply, we have the battery to keep the lights on and showers hot for our guests.


What size is the battery?

We’ve installed a new 100kW lithium ion battery. It is 3m3 and weighs approximately five tonnes.


Was it an easy project to undertake?

I think when you are undertaking a ground-breaking project like this, where the market is young and there aren’t that many suppliers with a long track record, there are always going to be challenges.

For example, we had unexpected issues with shipping the battery because of its size. (Incidentally, we are looking at vending-machine-sized batteries for our London hotels now, where space is an issue.)

But with good planning and working with Eon, who have supported us on other energy projects and understand our business, we were able to install the battery with minimal disruption at the hotel. We worked closely with the local team and essentially had the site ready to plug the battery in when it arrived.


What advice would you give to other businesses?

Well first off, like we have done, make sure you look at energy efficiency projects that give shorter paybacks first. There are lots of cost and carbon savings to be made with low and no-cost interventions.

On battery storage, a critical step is to do the sums. We collected lots of finance data to get a full breakdown of the structure of the site’s energy bills to formulate and model our financial return – once we had our supplier quotes. It is not a no brainer and does have risks as battery costs are high, and payback is dependent on the market price of energy which is constantly changing.

I would recommend working with a supplier that you know and that knows your business – or one that can demonstrate a track record of project success with good feedback from other business customers. And also understand if you are getting new or refurbished batteries. Old ones can overheat dependent on past use.


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