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Energy storage must be at heart of our future grid, Alan Finkel says

By Cole Latimer / The Age / 6 July 2018

Main Image: Australia is leading the world when it comes to residential and large-scale batteries but can’t rely on them to solve the energy grid’s problems. Photo: AAP

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel says Australia is taking a world-leading position in energy storage – beyond just batteries – and must put the technology at the centre of its own energy transition.

The Chief Scientist’s report Taking Charge highlights Australia’s rapidly increasing numbers of residential batteries as well as its investment in pumped hydro and other technologies to support renewable power generation, seeing it at the global forefront of the rise of energy storage.

“Energy storage is critically important technology –  we need to supplement and support the energy transition we’re going through,” Dr Finkel said.

“There are 21,000 residential battery systems installed in Australia last year. This is very high for such an early industry. Australia has now installed more lithium-ion batteries, per capita, than any other country. Australia is in a wonderful position.

“The challenge for policymakers is to replicate that small battery flexibility and reliability at scale: to put storage at the heart of a smarter electricity grid.”

Tesla’s mega battery

The world’s largest battery installation – Tesla’s battery in South Australia – has helped to save Australians at least $35 million since it began operation. In fact, it is responding so effectively that the grid has been unable to keep up. The battery manages to stabilise the grid too quickly for it to be measured. Tesla claims it hasn’t been paid for between 30 to 40 per cent of the energy it provided.

Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg backed the integration of more storage technology, saying the government has put energy storage on the agenda.

“We supported the development of Australia’s first virtual power plant last year, comprising 1000 households and businesses, and have since funded the development of another, providing a further 1200 batteries to homes,” Mr Frydenberg said.

The study also found Australia is broadening the scope of its leadership in energy storage beyond just batteries.

It said that while Australia had fallen behind when it came to large scale pumped hydro projects, with no new sites developed for around 30 years, in the last year both the acceleration of the Snowy 2.0 project and Genex Power’s Kidston pumped hydro operation in north Queensland have rapidly changed its generation capabilities.

There are also feasibility studies underway for at least several more pumped hydro projects in South Australia alone.

Hydrogen storage technology was also in focus.

A lack of national investment had seen Australia fail to utilise its hydro storage potential until recently.
Photo: Peter Mathew

Dr Finkel said that although hydrogen storage technology is still in its infancy, Australia is already laying the groundwork for its role in supporting renewable technology to give it energy for when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

Earlier this year, a $496 million pilot project was launched with Japanese companies to create liquid hydrogen from Victoria’s brown coal, positioning Australia as the first country in the world to export the resource.

‘Bright twinkle’

“Australia has the potential to take a world leader position,” Dr Finkel told Fairfax Media.

“We have the expertise in exporting resources, we have the brown coal resources, and we have the relationships with these Japanese companies.

“Hydrogen is still just a twinkle in the eye at the moment but it is a very bright twinkle.”

He said these technologies will support Australia as it integrates more wind and solar energy generation.

“We are entering an era of rapid technological transformation in electricity generation and usage,” Dr Finkel said.

“Energy storage technologies can not only help us benefit from the transition, but [help us] to prosper through the creation of new industries, new jobs and opening up export markets.”


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