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Telstra unveils its big battery – it’s nearly 10 times bigger than Tesla’s

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Ben Burge, centre, at the 2017 All-Energy Australia conference

Telstra has offered another tantalising insight into its unfolding energy market strategy, with the suggestion the telco has plans to mobilise its existing battery storage fleet of more than 1GWh, to help balance supply and demand on Australia’s rapidly transforming electricity market.

Speaking at the All-energy Australia conference in Melbourne on Wednesday, Telstra’s executive director of energy, Ben Burge, said the the company’s extensive telecoms infrastructure – including its back-up generation, its plans for renewables, and its considerable energy storage assets – made it a key contender in the critical, grid-wide effort to balance supply and demand.

This, of course, is contingent on a few other things falling into place first – namely the implementation of a 5-minute settlement rule for the National Electricity Market, that is hoped to open the NEM up to a greater range of competition beyond the incumbent gen-tailers.

That should be in place by 2021. And Telstra’s plan will also require some significant technical manoeuvring and replacing of much of its current battery capacity – mostly of the type used in trucks – but this was happening anyway.

That 1 gigawatt hour of storage could be made available to AEMO to help manage peak demand, and provide grid security, in the same way as Tesla’s big battery in South Australia. That facility though is just 100MW/129MWh.

It would transform Telstra from one of the biggest users of electricity in the country – it accounts for 1.5 terawatt hours out of the country’s slightly less than 200TWh, but also into one of the biggest suppliers.

It is also building a large solar farm in north Queensland and plans others to help deflect its own energy costs.

Burge – who was snapped up by Telstra from his role at the helm of upstart energy retailer Powershop – sees many key synergies between the energy industry and the electricity industry. Particular in terms of reliability of service.

“Turn the power off; people get grumpy. Turn off the Facebook feed, and then you really know true hatred,” he quipped.

But of course, keeping the lights on and essential services running is a serious business, and one that the Australian Energy Market Operator is singularly focused upon in the lead up to another Australian summer.

“Since September last year, when we had the state-wide blackout in SA, there have been at least three incidences of being within 50 milliseconds of the same thing happening,” Burge told the conference.

“Yes, we’re a 1.5TWh user of energy … but we also have several hundred megawatts of generation capacity,” he said.

Add to that the coming promise of 5G telecoms technology, and a cumulative battery storage capacity that is 10 times the size of the big battery system Tesla is currently installing in South Australia, and you have some pretty hefty potential.

“Take our battery fleet, we actually have over a gigawatt-hour of batteries in our network,” Burge said.

“Now, at the moment, they’re (largely) truck batteries, so they’re not that useful from a market participation point of view.

“But with 5-minute pricing on the horizon within the next, say, three years, plus a swap-out program that we’ll roll out over the next 5-7 (years), you can see that an industrial customer like Telstra is actually sitting on something that is quite useful in terms of problem of … how you fill in the (supply and demand) gaps.

“For too long we’ve been relying on only half of the equation to match out demand and supply, b/c largely there hasn’t been a signal to the demand-side of the equation,” Burge said.

“In that medium- to long term we are actually very positive and very hopeful about where the market ends up.

“Obviously it’s going to be a bit of a choppy road, between now and then, but we’re really positive.”  

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  • Peter F

    It is amazing how many hidden resources there are on the system when you go looking for them

    • Les Johnston

      Just have to have the regulation system set up to suit the incumbents removed first and let innovation and smart systems take over.

      • Peter F

        Absolutely. 2 minute despatch/payment, 0.1Hz frequency variation just about everything else will fall into place

  • Alexander Dudley

    My experience of customer service with Telstra has been so abysmal that they would NOT be high on my list of electricity suppliers.

    • Catprog

      I think they would be in the same category as ‘Snowy Mountains’. They provide the power to a retailer who provides it too you.

  • George Darroch

    Truck batteries now, smart batteries later.

  • dono

    Ummm…200 TWh When it comes to numbers raised to a power of 12 I get lost so is that is our energy usage per year?

    • George Takacs

      It is the electricity usage, which is a fraction of total energy usage, which itself is a fraction of primary energy consumption.

  • JohnM

    Very positive news.
    Almost gives me a reason not to detest Telstra and their evil corporate manipulations.
    What ever the reason, it’s not altruism.

    • Patrick Comerford

      Only if you are naive enough to think Telstra would do something for the common good. Instead their track record which should not be ignored indicates they would use their resources to gouge the public putting their own interests front and centre in any use of these reported resources. Telstra have shown they can not be trusted.

      • Chris O’Neill

        Of course, when you consider instantaneous power prices when there is a shortage, “price gouging” is perfectly normal. Welcome to the real world.

  • John Saint-Smith

    At this rate, we’ll end up with no black-outs this summer. All this ‘discovered’ capacity and potential for demand management could actually put downward pressure on electricity prices on hot afternoons.
    Oh Dear, it will spoil the Christmas Grinch for the LNP. They will have to invent something else to rant about – gay Santas perhaps?

  • Kevan Daly

    Telstra playing Enron with its emergency backup power supply doesn’t fill me with much joy at all. At the time of the SA black system event the telecommunications system performed admirably. Think how bad it would have been if both telco and electrical systems went black.

    • John Saint-Smith

      Do you not understand that using the back-up capacity before the crisis reaches a critical point, as it did in South Australia, we could have avoided all the problems? A Megawatt of protection is worth a Gigawatt of reaction after the grid has gone black.

      • Kevan Daly

        If I were responsible for the emergency power response of the Telstra network in SA I wouldn’t waste any capacity trying to prop up the electricity network. In the SA black event the wind generators were falling like flies in the face of multiple power line disturbances. I doubt there was sufficient battery capacity in telephone exchanges throughout the state to have made any appreciable difference.

        • John Saint-Smith

          Did you read the article?

        • Chris O’Neill

          SA’s black event was caused by the failure of timely load-shedding in a system devoid of even a few seconds of storage. 100MWh of storage would have provided enough time for even manual intervention to avoid black event. Similar to batteries providing enough time for generators to be started at exchanges.

        • Peter Campbell

          It’s not about powering the whole state. Not with any battery. It’s about being able to buy low and sell high with batteries they have just sitting there already connected for charging.

    • Michael Murray

      Actually there were problems with telecommunications during the blackout if you look at this report

      http://www.dpc.sa.gov.au/about/extreme-weather-event-review

      • Kevan Daly

        Thanks for that I”ll have a read. I was basing my view on a response I received to a question at the Telstra AGM which was along the lines:”Our emergency response was hunkydory and the SA premier has commended us for it …”

    • Ren Stimpy

      Obviously Telstra switched to its backup to keep the comms system going for the several hours duration of the blackout. What if they had switched to backup before the blackout (knowing it was possible/imminent) and so pre-emptively reduced the load on the mains power system. That reduction in load could have averted the blackout by giving backup generators a longer lead time to start up (which they should have done well prior to that anyway).

      • Chris O’Neill

        “That reduction in load could have averted the blackout”

        No, the power shortfall was far in excess of exchange consumption. The system had no automatic way of appropriately dealing with a “non-credible” event which would still have happened with a slightly smaller power shortfall.

        • Ren Stimpy

          How far in excess? That’s the demand response target we need to work towards. Then subtract Telstra’s potential contribution for starters. Assuming more hundred-year storms with multiple tornadoes.

  • Richard

    So, Tesla takes 2 months to install 1/10th of Telstra’s dumb batteries that will be replaced over the next 5-7 years.
    There is going to be a lot of batteries installed in Australia over that period and it will be a different landscape, but Telstra’s contribution is welcome.
    I wonder who’s batteries they will use? Probably Tesla power packs.

    • Scottman

      Telstra batteries are usually 48v. At the exchange I worked at we had ~ 10000 lines, 2 x 2150Ah (~200kWh), deep cycle? probably not, diesel gen backup. So big mods required to share battery output to grid. Maybe a furphy.

      • Richard

        Ok, battery tech proceeding at pace so they probably have something worked out. But it could be a PR stunt- my battery is bigger than your battery! 🙂

      • Peter Campbell

        An inverter is needed to make AC from battery DC no matter where the battery is or the voltage, so I don’t think that would make Telstra’s any better or worse than anyone else’s batteries. I also don’t see why the Telstra batteries would not be deep cycle batteries. The alternative is a starter battery designed to deliver very high current for a short burst. The batteries can already charge from the mains so it is just another black box to sit along side to send some back into the mains.

        • Scottman

          No arguments there, just discussion. The cells at the particular exchange I finished working at in 1992 were : 2v 2150Ah flooded lead acid (had to read SG on each cell weekly), I did not know if they were deep cycle, I kinda doubt it as 99.999% of the time they were just floating on the load of the exchange with a genset for power failures. They also had sealed, probably gel, on the mobile phone gear upstairs. There would have been deep cycle on small remote exchanges with no backup.
          Just imagine, the exchange (with backup) is loaded heavily (new gear consumes lots of power always), the batts are still floating, rectifiers at near full tilt, batts are called for and obviously the export from the exchange would have to exceed the import for any good to be had on the grid, the batts go below float so the rectifier would try and raise the voltage to keep the batts at float, its already going hammer & tongs, what then rectifier cct breaker trips? Hmm not good. See my point.
          Exchanges with no backup would also be not much good as if the batts are called for grid support reducing the SOC you wouldn’t want a power failure as the batts will not last as long.
          Don’t get me wrong they were top line batts that would just sit there for maybe up to 20 years. But deep cycle I’m not sure.
          So as I said lots of thought (Aust doesn’t seem to do enough of these days, mostly political), hardware & management to be accomplished for this to become reality. Will Telstra spend the big bucks required to do this Hmmm maybe.
          Cheers

          • Peter Campbell

            Actually, on further reflection, if Telstra’s batteries can keep an exchange running for a few hours, all they need to do is offer to disconnect from the grid at scheduled or requested times, and reconnect and recharge the batteries at other scheduled times. With virtually no new equipment they would look like extra generation when they disconnect and extra load when they are both connected and recharging.

          • Scottman

            On further, further reflection, I agree that if grid was disconnected it would be like demand management, aiding the grid. But from my experience the genset would start within about 30 seconds unless the grid support request included no genset start. But maybe Telstra would not care about the ICE pollution & gain from curtailing the grid charge at peak times. Also all of these exhanges run A/C so they could cut the A/C for a short period.
            A very interesting subject.

    • Doug Raymond

      May well be flow batteries like Redflow’s. Very long life and economic for Telstra’s application.

      • Ian

        That’s a good idea. Suburb level exchanges with red flow batteries doing double duty: storage for Telstra’ needs and a soak for the suburb’s solar output. If they were smart, Telstra could sell grid storage to households or buy cheap solar power directly from households. Telstra could be getting their electricity for 12c/KWH ( the home FiT rate)

  • Michael Murray

    They could outsource all their batteries to the Phillipines.

    • Brunel

      Could certainly offset the emissions caused by 500 odd Lamborghinis by planting a forest in Qatar and thus keep Lamborghinis legal.

      • Peter Campbell

        Why would you want a Lamborghini when you could have a Tesla each for everyone in the family for the same money?

  • Miles Harding

    Telstra already has a huge real estate resource in the form of nearly empty telephone exchanges that could also be deployed as storage centres, typically within 2km of most older suburb customers.

    The corporate model of telstra can be best described as warring tribes, so any announcement by one of the tribes has to be viewed cautiously. We will have to wait until we see actual results before getting excited.

    • Mike Shackleton

      I live near the Windsor exchange in Melbourne. The big brick building has massive stainless exhaust pipes on top of it, which I guess are for the gensets installed there. Replaced with batteries, how much more useful would they be?

  • JonathanMaddox

    It’s like a competitive cooking show where nobody knows the rules!

    “100 days or it’s free! ”

    “Here’s one I prepared earlier!”