Peter Fletcher has taken the term working remotely to a new level. He moved himself and his family from Nottingham and set up Black Bay Studio in a former fish-processing factory overlooking Kirkibost Pier. Where’s that exactly? It’s on the island of Great Bernera, which is attached by a narrow white bridge to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. It's basically like living in the middle of nowhere.
Outside the building there is what must be the UK’s most remote phone box. Inside, there’s a surprisingly good 4G signal thanks to a mast that you can see in the distance on the other side of the tidal inlet. But Peter is also benefitting from free power thanks to a recent initiative from Nissan. The car manufacturer is developing its Nissan’s xStorage system, which uses second-life batteries from its vehicles to supplement the conventional energy supply. Peter has one on the wall.
And, as you’d expect, the studio uses rather a lot of electricity, plus there’s no gas around these parts. So radiators are electric, cooking is electric and, naturally, amplification is electric. So Peter was very happy when the phone rang and was told they wanted to supply him with battery power and solar panels for the roof. We’ve already reported on Nissan’s xStorage system, but this is the first time we’ve had a chance to see it in action.
Three years ago Nissan opened its pop-up Electric Café in Paris, which was partly used to illustrate the potential of the xStorage system. Visitors could generate power by jumping up and down on electro-magnetic induction tiles, or they could have a go at cycling on the spot as they supped a coffee or two. Black Bay Studio is no publicity stunt, though, and highlights the huge potential of using second-life batteries from cars.
Bizarrely, roadworks were the last thing we expected to encounter as we pootled down a winding single-track road towards the rock ‘n’ roll facility. But, in what appeared to be a cable-laying exercise, a group of workmen had a Stop/Go sign set up and were controlling the traffic. Not that there was much. “It’s for broadband,” says Peter when we arrive outside the modest-looking building.
Modern amenities like cable broadband might be coming, but innovation out here already exists. And, while the former industrial building looks slightly weather-beaten on the outside, the inside is packed with expensive tech. Peter has, he says, invested a lot of cash into the facility since he sold his recording studio back in Nottingham. Local and EU grants have helped him over the finishing line by matching his own personal investment.
His new vision has been up and running for a while now and is flourishing. Peter hopes it’ll grow even more now that he has signed a deal with Miloco, which helps connect artists with its bulging portfolio of studios. Inside Black Bay there’s an enormous Cadac J-Series 54 Channel Frame mixing desk, Apple Macs and everything else needed to make and record music. Which in turn means the Nissan xStorage system is having to work hard.
You might not expect the Isle of Lewis to be a great spot for solar panels either, but although the location gets its fair share of rain it can also be a sun trap. “It doesn't need to be sunny either, just light,” notes Peter. He seems very happy with the way the system is working so far. It’s not a replacement for mains electricity, but it’s certainly a great supplement as the xStorage system allows quick and simple management of excess power by routing it into the old batteries.
There’s also no problem with adding more solar panels if he needs to. It sounds a lot more straightforward than harnessing another abundant source of free energy – the wind. Gales come through here as frequently as the rain showers and the islands have already tried to embrace wind power on an industrial scale. However, major projects have fallen by the wayside and much of that has been down to how much impact wind turbines have on the landscape of what is a very beautiful place. Solar panels, on the other hand, sit nicely on the studio roof largely unnoticed.
Nissan’s xStorage system is fully scalable as well. Black Bay Studios might seem small, but the carmaker has already done the same thing on a huge scale. In June of last year Europe’s largest energy storage system was unveiled at the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam.
Calling on the same concept of using second-life and new electric vehicle batteries the 3 megawatt storage system works in conjunction with 4,200 solar panels on the roof of the arena to provide back-up power. The energy boost is used to smooth out the peaks and troughs generated during concerts, so it’s high-voltage rock ‘n’ roll at its greenest. A bit like Peter’s studio in fact.
On the drive back to Stornoway we noticed another neat Nissan innovation that comes via the e-Pedal in the latest all-electric Leaf. If you’re going down a steep hill and back off the pedal it’s actually possible to see the battery level indicator creeping up again. Yep, the car recharges its battery via regenerative braking. That’s a nice touch. But the way Black Bay recording studio is doing its own bit for the planet is even better.