Between his comments on clean coal and his swipes at state renewable energy targets, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull offered at least one significant ray of hope to the renewable energy industry in his National Press Club address when he promised to “get on with” rolling out grid-scale energy storage in Australia.
“Energy storage, long neglected in Australia, will also be a priority this year,” told the audience at the NPC. “Last week at my request, ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, agreed to work together on a new funding round for large-scale storage and other flexible capacity projects including pumped hydro.
“I’ve also written to Alan Finkel, asking him to advise on the role of storage and pumped hydro in stabilising the grid. Large-scale storage will support variable renewables like wind and solar. It will get more value out of existing baseload generation and it will enhance grid stability. We’re going to get on with it.”
The enthusiasm, and in particular the funding round, were welcomed as a clear positive by industry – although as the Australian Solar Council CEO John Grimes did note, $20 million – the amount ARENA has said will be allocated to the large-scale storage scheme – “won’t go far in pumped hydro.”
Tesla, too, was buoyed by the news of an Australian battery storage funding round, and most likely considers itself a contender, having recently won a competitive bidding process in its home state of California to provide a 20MW/80MWh Powerpack system – “in essence, a peaker plant,” a Tesla blog notes – at the Southern California Edison (SCE) Mira Loma substation.
But the question is, can Turnbull’s enthusiasm for battery storage be reconciled with his party’s apparent aversion to ambition on renewables, and in particular, to the renewable energy target? And can you have one without the other?
While hoeing into the (mostly Labor) states for what he described as their “mindless rush into renewables”, Turnbull also took a swipe at state governments for the lack of grid-scale energy storage capacity they had built to go with those renewables.
“It is an indictment on state governments that have been pushing more and more renewables into the grid … If you are going to have a large percentage of renewable energy in the grid, you’ve got to be able to back that up, with either battery storage or gas-fired power.”
Tom Koutsantonis, the state energy minister for South Australia – which has been a convenient Conservative whipping boy for Australia’s increasingly outdated national electricity market – was quick to call out Turnbull’s double-speak.
“The Prime Minister and (federal energy minister) Mr Frydenberg are being wilfully ignorant in their continued criticisms of South Australia’s nation-leading renewable energy,” Koutsantonis said in a statement on Thursday.
“The constant stream of complaints about states adopting renewable energy targets is a complete hypocrisy.
“The fact is that there will be more and more renewable energy projects built to provide clean energy to the grid as it is the only form of energy in the market that is incentivised by the federal government,” he said.
“In fact, to meet the nation’s Renewable Energy Target, Australia will need more than 4000MW extra of renewable energy in the market before 2020.”