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Battery storage barely scratched surface of possibilities in Australia

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Battery storage is already starting to make its mark in Australia in the household market and at the utility level, but according to one of the world leading battery manufacturers, it ain’t seen nothing yet.

South Korean group Kokam says battery technology is presenting cost effective opportunities across a myriad applications – from luxury boats, ferries, and off-grid electrical systems – to substituting the coal fired generators and gas turbines that provide “spinning reserve” for the main grid.

It’s the latter part of the business that could affect real change in the grid. While battery storage in household level will change the demand profile, and provide network benefits and savings at utility scale, it’s the provision of frequency and other “network services” that will allow for the phasing out of fossil fuels.

Kokam CEO C.Y. Chong told RenewEconomy that Australia – because of its huge geography and excellent renewable resources – was one of the most attractive markets in the world.

kokam battery“The electricity market has to be decentralized, and that means using renewable energy and battery storage,” Chong said in an interview.

“There is a very high possibility to have high amount of renewable energy in Australia,” Chong said, noting that the battery storage market was still not well developed in this country.

“We very much interested in this country, there are big opportunities to improve the use of renewable energy.”

Kokam does not have the profile of its bigger Korean rivals such as LG or Samsung in terms of sheer volume, but it has been getting some pretty important commissions because of its leading battery technology.

Its roots lie in the defence industries and it is now bringing its lithium polymer battery technology to the civilian arena.

Kokam’s batteries are being used in the Solar Impulse plane attempting the round the world solar flight, and in James Cameron’s Deep Sea Challenger.

In Australia its batteries are being used in PowerCor’s 2MWh system (Australia’s largest to date), the Sunverge solar trial with Ergon Energy and United Energy, in a University of Queensland trial, and Transgrid’s iDemand project

Its batteries are used in many transport applications, and Kokam is particularly interested large transport opportunities, rather than the relatively small electric car.

Kokam is delivering propulsion batteries for electric buses, trams and electric trucks, as well as for ferries and luxury yachts. The ferry market – using battery arrays of several megawatt hours – in northern Europe is displacing oil and the economics are looking good, with diesel use being cut by 65 per cent.

In the luxury yacht market, the owners maybe too rich to care and like the sound of diesels, but the batteries are cleaning up marinas by removing the need to have those diesel engines turning over at the dock.

Using battery storage for island microgrids is also effective, reducing diesel and other fuel use by around 90 per cent.

kokam graph

On the Korean island of Gasa, with 420kW of wind, 320kW of solar, coupled with Kokam battery capacity of of 3.2MWh, the target is 100 per cent renewables. Fossil fuel has already been displaced with the batteries providing frequency control (the need to keep a grid stable). See graph above.

It is the use of battery storage for frequency control at a large scale which is possibly the most exciting. Kokam recently installed a 56MW facility in mainland Korea to support a nuclear power station. When the plant went off line for some 3 minutes on 2 occasions earlier this year, the Kokam batteries reacted immediately allowing a full ride through the fault and full recovery.

Jon Pemberton, the CEO of Sydney based Zest Energy, Kokam’s principal agent in Australia says the use of storage at grid level for frequency regulation could displace spinning reserve and improve the efficiency of fossil fuel generators.

“This is a rapidly evolving market space for the utilities, particularly at the edge of networks in states such as Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, where there is a high penetration of solar PV.


A simulation study soon to be released by the CSIRO University of Sydney showed that 1500MWh of battery storage in the NEM could deliver major savings  in frequency control – through avoiding reducing the need for cold and warm starts and taking spinning reserve off-line.

That will deliver benefits in emissions, fuel costs and efficiency, and pave the way for even higher penetration of renewables such as wind and solar, which has already reached more than 40 per cent in South Australia.

‘”We believe that batteries will be to the electricity grid what wi-fi was to the Internet – opening up a huge range of new applications for consumers,” Pemberton says.

“Distributed batteries are the key enabler to integration of a higher penetration of renewables in the grid and provision of added energy security to households. This is a value add  … our grid assets now have new functionality to distribute local generation and to manage demand, plus consumers will benefit from a lower bill”.  

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  • john

    I think perhaps one line of the article may have a mistake I will paste in below.

    A simulation study soon to be released by the CSIRO University of Sydney showed that 1500MWh of battery storage in the NEM could deliver major savings in frequency control – through avoiding reducing the need for cold and warm starts and taking spinning reserve off-line.

    Is it that the size needed for back up?
    I do not doubt for one second that battery back up is going to come in and in a big way because it will be cheaper.
    When there is an energy supply shortage and high demand being able to use a battery back up will save millions.
    For instance I so remember looking at one months cost of power for one state and 1 day the cost of power was 30% of the month not 3%.

    • Geoff James

      Hi John, back up is a different application – for when there’s a shortage of available energy to meet demand. Frequency control means adjusting the supply-demand balance to account for variations in either. This is needed even when there is enough energy overall. For example, when you turn on your electric kettle, another 1 kW of generation should be found from somewhere, otherwise the grid frequency drops just a little bit. If a transmission line or generator fails, which happens sometimes, the system load won’t be met until the lost generation can be made up, and the grid frequency drops a larger amount. Batteries are excellent at watching the grid frequency and keeping it steady by providing extra generation, or extra load, at short notice. Doing this with batteries reduces the amount of “spinning reserve” that should be provided by fossil-fuel generators. Geoff.

      • Rockne O’Bannon

        Great explanation. One of the value propositions being pushed hard in many countries for batteries these days is for security and resilience, which are hard to price, but they are part of the mission statement of every public utility, as far as I know.

        So what happens is that enterprises that have various problems wind up adopting batteries and finding that batteries CAN solve many different problems. Unfortunately, knowing what all those advantages are in advance seems to be a rare skill.