Marks & Spencer mulls battery storage but struggles to find experts

Maria Spyrou: Building up M&S’s flexibility

Marks & Spencer is considering investment in battery storage to support environmental goals, cut costs and generate revenue. But the retailer is struggling to find impartial expertise.

Energy efficiency manager, Maria Spyrou, needs to write a tender specification, but says independent advice is thin on the ground.

“It is very difficult to write a spec. Because the technologies are so different – you don’t want to be too specific but neither do you want to say ‘I just want a battery’,” Spyrou told The Energyst.

“Finding partners that can support us in writing that tender spec that are not actually battery manufacturers themselves is extremely challenging.”

While manufacturers are happy to help, the retailers’ procurement rules prevent working with technology providers for any project worth more then £500,000.

“So if manufacturers are the only experts it becomes very difficult to move the project forwards.”

Doubling up on DSR

Marks & Spencer already participates in grid balancing schemes, or demand-side response. It began connecting back-up generators to the grid nearly three years ago. Initially for Triad avoidance, the firm then began to participate in STOR and the Capacity Market.

While obtaining export agreements with distribution network operators was a considerable challenge, Spyrou says the investment is starting to pay off. This year, Marks & Spencer’s electricity consumption was 10% lower than the previous year. While that resulted from a number of energy initiatives, DSR played its part, she said.

The company is now working through the connections process at around 15 other sites for phase two of its DSR programme, which Spyrou hopes will deliver greater savings next year. Once completed, phase two will give Marks & Spencer around 20MW of flexibility.

Big DSR and storage plans

While initially looking at feasibility of frequency response using batteries, storage is part of a longer-term strategy by the retailer to reduce overall peak demand on the power system and to do so with greener sources, according to Spyrou.

“I think that flexibility will be more important going forward, an important parameter in terms of your electricity bills. So we have updated our Plan A targets this year and declared we are attempting to make 50% of our peak demand flexible by 2025.”

That peak is currently “between 80MW-100MW,” indicating M&S plans to double the level of flexible capacity it will achieve following phase two of its current plan.

“I see it working so that our generator scheme will drop off, we will start slowing that one down,” said Spyrou.

“We’ve [re]covered the [cost of the] generators that we operate, so we would look at flexibility with battery storage or other solutions.”

Maria Spyrou was interviewed for The Energyst’s 2017 DSR Report. She also spoke at the associated DSR Event earlier this month.

You can download the report here and Maria’s slides here.

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