Great South West’s Clean Energy Leaders: Exeter’s Smart Grid and Storage Project

Aerial photo of solar farm during build

The Great South West is set to become one of the leading providers of low carbon energy in the UK by 2035. Our region’s unique offer of clean energy projects – 535 operational or in development – could generate 11% of the UK’s electricity capacity, helping to deliver the country’s net zero ambitions. In this series, we’re highlighting the fantastic work of some of these projects.

Exeter City Council’s Water Lane Smart Grid & Storage Project is a groundbreaking initiative aimed at revolutionising the city’s energy infrastructure. Water Lane Solar Farm is equipped with 3,700 solar panels generating 1.2MW of clean energy, and a co-located battery facility with a 2MW storage capacity. 

Additionally, solar arrays and battery storage technology have been implemented at strategic locations across the city, including Riverside Leisure Centre, a new rooftop 124kW PV array; Matford Centre, a 324 kWh battery storage and smart control retrofit to an existing 1.5MW PV array; and John Lewis car park, a 216 kWh battery storage and smart control system retrofit to an existing 125kW PV array. This integrated approach not only harnesses renewable energy but also supports the electrification of the city’s waste fleet.

How is Exeter City Council working to contribute to the region’s net zero ambitions?

The Water Lane Smart Grid & Storage Project will increase electricity generation from carbon-free sources. By reducing the burden on the grid during peak times, the project ensures energy security for Exeter City Council. 

Exeter’s existing grid capacity was not sufficient to power the charging infrastructure needed to electrify the Council’s fleet. Generation from the solar farm is a wholly owned self-supply, overcoming local grid constraints.  Any surplus green energy is fed into the grid network.

The three electric Refuse Collection Vehicles (eRCVs) currently circulating around the City save a total of 35,000 litres of diesel per annum, and 103 tonnes of CO2e; reducing pollution and improving air quality.  

What innovative technologies or approaches are you utilising?

The initiative encompasses four sites, each with unique characteristics, providing valuable insights into the effectiveness of renewable energy and smart grid solutions.  The project demonstrates clear benefits with renewable generation, cutting-edge battery storage technology and integrated smart grid infrastructure to develop and rollout green EV charging. 

How has your organisation’s activities positively impacted the local community and environment?

The council’s project responds to the local priority of creating integrated smart grid and battery storage that offers improved capacity and distribution of renewable energy. The Solar Farm demonstrates environmental benefit, utilising an otherwise unusable area built on contaminated land (inert Landfill site), in a flood risk zone, adjoining a main railway line, and over a mains sewer.  

By further expanding renewable energy initiatives, investing in innovative technologies, and promoting community engagement, Exeter City Council aims to continue working toward a greener, more sustainable future.

How do you envision your organisation’s role in supporting net zero goals going forward?

Exeter City Council declared a Climate Emergency in July 2019 and as part of this commitment, aims to achieve Net Zero Greenhouse Gas emissions for its own corporate activities and for the city by 2030.
Philip Bialyk, Exeter City Council Leader said: “Exeter City Council’s Water Lane Smart Grid and Storage Project is playing an instrumental role in achieving Net Zero for the City Council, and is an important demonstrator for the wider region, and other councils looking to support the transition to a cleaner future.”