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Australia could be ‘world leader’ in energy storage despite public skepticism

By Nicole Hasham  / Sydney Morning Herald / 20 November 2017

About 1.8 million Australians with rooftop solar could lower their bills and take control of their electricity supply by storing their own energy, but many fear a repeat of the failed home insulation scheme, a report has found.

The research, co-funded by the office of Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, found Australia could be a world leader in developing and exporting energy storage. However, this was being held back by a lack of effective planning, investment and incentives – partly driven by poor public knowledge of the technologies.

The report, produced by the Australian Council of Learned Academics, warned that unless storage played a greater role in the energy system, electricity costs would continue to rise and supply would become less reliable, which could severely hurt the Australian economy.

The research explored the potential of energy storage, such as home and large-scale batteries, pumped hydro and lesser-known technologies such as molten salt, compressed air and renewable hydrogen.

Such technologies store energy when it is produced by variable sources, such as wind and solar, which helps cope with fluctuations in energy demand and supply, and can provide back-up power in high-demand times such as heatwaves.

The report, which included focus groups and a national survey of more than 1000 people, found public knowledge of energy storage options was largely restricted to batteries, such as those produced by electric car and energy storage company Tesla.

This lack of knowledge, as well as low consumer trust in the energy system, was “limiting uptake of storage, especially at the domestic scale”, the report said.

Those interviewed expressed concern that a safety incident involving home battery storage would affect deployment of the technology, and many cited the Rudd government’s flawed home insulation program that led to four deaths.

The researchers said Australia had abundant raw mineral resources for batteries, especially lithium, which combined with world-class technological expertise meant it “has the potential to become a world leader” in energy storage.

But governments must encourage innovation and investment, support new and existing high-technology industries and drive new energy exports – including a “unified climate and energy policy, informed on the basis of independent expert evidence”, the report said.

ACOLA expert working group chairman Dr Bruce Godfrey said the report showed energy storage presented a huge opportunity for Australia but “there is work to be done to build consumer confidence”.

Dr Finkel, whose office worked closely with the researchers, said energy storage “could represent a major new export industry for our nation”.

ACOLA aims to present the findings to the Commonwealth Science Council, chaired by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, to inform policymaking.

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