After Elon Musk’s recent Twitter claim to solve South Australia’s energy problem in 100 days, Malcolm Turnbull, the Australian Prime Minister, seems to have sat up and taken notice. According to reports, Turnbull phoned Musk and had a positive conversation about the storage technology Tesla could offer. This has led to prominent figures in Australia’s energy sector encouraging Turnbull to give Australian companies a chance before turning to Tesla’s project.
Several Australian solar and battery companies have ongoing projects at various stages of completion, which are similar to Musk’s proposal. Zen Energy has recently unveiled its “Big Battery Project” which is being worked on ready for summer time when there is the greatest stress on the grid. The project is one of several taking place in the Upper Spencer Gulf region in South Australia. This area has been hit especially hard since the closure of the power station at Port Augusta. The large scale solar developments and storage at various places throughout the region aim to lower energy costs and improve energy security.
The Big Battery Project
Located at Port Augusta, funding has already been secured for the project. A battery with 50 megawatt hours of energy will not only stabilise the grid but also wholesale electricity prices. Owned by external investors, the battery and its interaction with the grid will be managed by Zen Energy. It will absorb electricity from the grid when cheap and abundant and then be a supply source when scarce. Professor Ross Garnout, Zen Energy chairman, said “The blackouts that we’ve had in the last year would not have happened if this was in place.”
Zen Energy is also looking into larger battery options to provide greater security in energy provision. An additional 100 megawatt battery which would act as a buffer supply interruption as occurred in the recent February heatwave. Whereas, a 150 megawatt battery would stabilise grid power and voltage during sudden outage situations, such as the state-wide blackout in September.
Lyon Solar also have projects up their sleeve
Zen Energy isn’t the only company working on large scale battery storage projects. Lyon Solar is developing the Kingfisher Project – a combined solar and battery storage plant to be located in Roxby Downs. Being connected to the National Electricity Market, the aim is to deliver 100 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power. Initially plans were for a minimum of 20 megawatt hours of storage. But this has been upped to 100 MWh, providing energy security across the region. It is planned to begin operating commercially before the end of 2017.
Although receiving no funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), Lyon has unveiled a second solar plus storage project. This will be located in Lakeland, Queensland and involve a minimum of 20 MWh battery storage. David Green, Lyon co-founder, commented that they were using battery systems developed by AES, “the world’s most experienced storage providers”. The units are delivered to Australia disassembled, which will mean new jobs, knowledge and expertise will come to the region.
Price competitive with Tesla
It is clear that Australian companies are well on the way to battery storage solutions. Therefore, Chief executive of Australia’s Energy Storage Council, John Grimes seems a bit irked by Musk’s ability to grab the Prime Minister’s attention with one tweet. He told the Guardian, “I’m not saying Tesla should be excluded, but don’t fast-track a discussion with an overseas company when you have the capability right here, right now, in Australia”. Grimes advocates a transparent bid process, allowing Australian companies a fair chance in the “revolution of energy.”
Changing economics have enabled this turn to battery storage. Cheap battery and solar technology coupled with smart energy systems means the price of these projects is now much lower. As Grimes pointed out, “If you thought about doing this even three years ago the price would have been something like four times higher”. The government now needs to ensure market settings are right so these projects are commercially viable without needing government subsidies.
Even though it may have been Musk that caught Turnbull’s attention, it has raised awareness of the solutions available. Australia is now onto something big – and those are big batteries!