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Turnbull hypes energy storage, sends mixed message on renewables

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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.

Turnbull 2GB

“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.”

Indeed…

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.”  

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  • Chris Fraser

    Don’t blame the States for his own shortcomings. There’s nothing stopping him from dedicating CEFC funds on storage. Really, he needs a bit more ambition.

    • Marcelo

      Your first mistake was falsely presuming Trunball was being honest.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    Isn’t it 4,000 MW of renewables by 2020 to meet the RET?
    But I do agree with the need to provide large scale storage. Like the 110 MW with up to 880 MWh per day of stored energy offered by one of the concentrating solar thermal with storage power stations proposed for Port Augusta. Another proposal offers even more. Which also enhances system security and reliability. And will offer firm electricity prices for decades. And my favourite, it does have a good range and number of jobs to build, maintain and operate them. What it doesn’t have is emissions in operation, not like the about 700 kg/MWh of an ultra supercritical black coal power station (without CCS, which has no runs on the board really).
    A clear eyed look tells me these are all good things, and you need to regularly abandon a “technology agnostic” ideologic position and actually decide to, and then actually build facilities of a particular technology.

    • Sophie Vorrath

      It is, Gary. Lost a zero somewhere along the line. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Mark Harnack

    I think he is taking the right direction. Storage is definitely required to properly transition to a renewables dominant grid. Once storage gets down the cost curve there is no need for any other incentives to get renewables to dominate over ff. It is already the cheepest and easiest to role out.
    In the short term it would be nice just to get to 10 minutes or so of peak demand covered by storage. Perhaps this would be enough to stop the market manipulation by the oligopy of power suppliers abusing the 5min vs 10 minute settlement thing.

    • Brunel

      I just think that storage should be installed in hospitals, universities, airports, skyscrapers.

      To avoid transmission losses.

  • Ray Miller

    Australia’s love of gambling seems to have extended to our Energy Policy. We have no Master PLAN just a collection of rich vested interests siphoning the life blood out of the economy.
    Using energy efficiently is the foundation of any energy policy and what do we get but almost zero attention to it, too much of the above cartels of obese vested interests aggressively falling over themselves for more chits to gamble with.
    All the suppliers get rewarded only for units of energy sold or handled, how crazy is this, it just drives the most inefficient uncontrolled energy system.
    We have a belated opportunity to turn things around and embrace the 21st century energy transition which will require 21st century thinking and skills and none of the old thinking.
    We currently have much of the built environment which is a health hazard during extreme summer conditions and is totally dependent on heat pumps to make them safe, the population is aging and more sensitive to heat stress. And yet our building industry is encouraging and providing hazardous lowest common denominator thermal comfort levels at premium costs.
    Just to be clear the built environment is an integral part of our energy system.
    What if we get the major energy companies ‘partnering’ with the end users to provide all the end energy services using the most efficient means. What would the future look like? What opportunities would this hold for everyone?

    Unless the fundamentals are changed and we start using an ‘energy services’ based approach tied to meeting the goal of zero carbon emissions Australia’s economy will end up with a well deserved 3rd world status.

  • Andrew Thaler

    Nothing in what Trunbull said relieved any of the extreme sovereign risk we face in the development of large scale RE systems.. storage or generation.
    after the recent move by ERM to give the finger to the RET market, I can only pull up my drawbridge a little bit more which translates into a smaller desire to invest in MW’s… that being said I did naively grab another 90kW of PV last week.. so my fingers remain crossed in hope.