If Australia’s electricity grid were to be the basis of a romantic novel, full of love, fear and temptation, then South Australia energy minister Tom Koutsantonis’s upcoming decision on battery storage would be one of the major plot lines.
Koutsantonis is currently juggling the merits of battery storage – sexy and synchronous to many – but largely un-known in large scale deployments, at least in these parts.
South Australia’s state government has been putting the finishing touches to its new $550 million energy plan designed to avoid future blackouts and reduce the ability of energy oligopolies to gouge on prices.
One of the most debated and contentious is the role of batteries in this future grid: Sure, it can do storage, and load shifting, but can it really do all the the other things (the 20-strong value stack) promised for a grid? And can it replace the ageing, dirty, increasingly unreliable and price-gouging gas generators that currently have prime position?
On Friday, during a Hydrogen Workshop at Adelaide Oval, Koutsantonis wanted to talk about using hydrogen’s benefits to create new industries, making use of SA’s upcoming abundance of clean low-cost solar and wind power.
However, all the questions from the floor were about other things, in particular about synchronicity and the role of batteries on a grid.
One person questioned the idea of trying to make the whole NEM synchronised to the same 50Hz, and that SA – at the end of the grid – should consider DC links. Koutsantonis replied by pointing out that, sadly, he didn’t own either the grid or generation in SA, so such decisions aren’t in his hands.
However, he said the idea has merit and talked about the success of the Texas grid in being independent of the rest of US, despite being in the middle of it (just like SA is in Australia). He pointed to the similarities – a strong lead in wind energy and setting up the state to be the country leader in clean cheaper renewable electricity.
Then the questioning came to an area where Koutsantonis does has full control: on what role batteries can play on the grid, and what his team will allow them to do, especially in the areas of ancillary market services such as keeping a grid synchronous.
As we have read in RenewEconomy, the current thinking of his team may not allow batteries to play a role in anything much more than storing power for blackouts and when there are short-term power shortages, as AGL will be doing with its 1,000 battery virtual power plant being installed across Adelaide.
It was pointed out to Koutsantonis that many power grid engineers say that batteries – being as fast as they are, and all electronic and with the latest control algorithms – can provide synchronising and balancing services much better than massive lumps of metal spinning around with little control over them.
Koutsantonis’ replies were helpful and hopeful:
- He acknowledged that he himself has grown up thinking of batteries as akin to water tanks that one fills up and then empties and not much more than that. So, all these new ancillary services provided by batteries is relatively new to him that he is still absorbing inputs continually from the industry and his team;
- He does have two clear goals for his Energy Plan he will not waver from: at least 50 per cent of SA power being locally sourced from state renewables, and at least 50 per cent of synchronous capacity also being local in SA;
- He says he wants us to continue to be a leading centre of new power technology adoption, but wants certainty, too, that the new technology won’t surprise us with bugs, incorrect settings and the like. Thus, he insists that he wants SA to have a mix of proven “real inertia” (aka gas turbines) and “synthetic inertia” (aka batteries and other modern control electronics) and not put trust in to just one approach.
- Asked if he and his team’s minds are already made up about the roles of batteries on a grid in the current Energy Plan, he quickly replied “no, it isn’t” and that he and his department are definitely open to new inputs and data proving the effectiveness of batteries in real life installations to do synthetic inertia and other tasks.
So, battery makers, the challenge is on: Show Koutsantonis that your new, charming and oh-so-high-tech battery systems can really provide synchronous inertia and the other benefits that engineers have said is possible, and on paper can be done much better by using ultra-fast batteries versus centuries-old spinning lumps of metal.
Valdis Dunis is Development Manager for The Solar Project.