Australian conservatives have continued with their bizarre attack on new technologies, with Senator Eric Abetz dismissing the new report on battery storage commissioned by chief scientist Alan Finkel as “eco-evangelism”.
The new report, prepared by ACOLA, gives an important insight into the level of storage needed to support various levels of renewable energy in Australia, and comes at a critical time in the local policy debate, and the consideration of a National Energy Guarantee.
Abetz dismissed the report, saying it “suggests that Labor’s crazy renewable energy target could be ‘easily met’ if individual households install solar panels and battery technology.
“This eco-evangalist approach of suggesting that there is no cost restriction to households installing expensive solar panels and batteries defies common-sense and highlights a disconnectedness from mainstream Australia.”
Maybe Abetz didn’t read the report. It actually says that consumers will install solar and storage, precisely because it is or will be cost effective, and this amount of storage would, in theory, be enough to meet the security and reliability needs of a 50 per cent renewable target by 2030.
The report pointed out that the issue was a bit more complicated than that, but highlighted that there was no technology or cost issue that would prevent a high penetration of renewables.
Finkel made a presentation on the report in Canberra on Monday and followed this up with a “doorstop” press conference with journalists. This is a transcript provided by his office.
Dr Finkel: I’m very pleased with this report. Let me first point out it doesn’t have recommendations – it’s not a government commissioned report. It’s a report that is intended to survey opportunities and come up with findings and then leave it to government to develop a policy informed by what’s in this report.
What impresses me is the report is very broad, it’s not just looking at lithium-ion batteries, it’s not just looking at the electricity grid. It’s not just looking at transport per se.
It’s looking at the supply chain opportunities, whether it’s lithium, nickel or cobalt. It’s the ability to do a little bit of development of battery technologies, battery pack technology development and looking beyond batteries at the importance of pumped hydro in our future electricity system security.
It’s looking at the opportunity to export sunshine, take sunshine, wind, renewable electricity, and use that through electrolysis to make hydrogen and from hydrogen you make ammonia and ammonia is easy to ship and you can send it to countries that have indicated that they will have a not only growing, but a huge demand for hydrogen and they want clean hydrogen going into the future, countries such as Japan and Korea.
So there are many, many diverse opportunities for Australia and I think this report has captured, well, all of them that I’m aware of so I’m very pleased with this report.
Reporter: Dr Finkel, what sort of investment do you think we are going to need to see over the next 15 or 20 years in storage, whether that’s pumped hydro, batteries whatever, in order to meet our Paris commitments?
Dr Finkel: So I won’t link it to any particular commitments. The report, as Dr Godfrey indicated in his remarks, looked at three scenarios and they were decided upon I think last year – a low, medium and high scenario for renewable energy.
Don’t forget some of the renewable energy is hydro power, catchment hydro. So when you’re looking at those figures it’s not just variable renewable energy which would come from solar rooftops and wind and solar farms. It’s a little bit of biomass as well. The mid-scenario is the only one that’s costed directly at the moment in the upfront summary and that says look, the capacity that you would need for security in the mid-scenario costs around about $11 billion, but that’s not the whole picture. S
ecurity is the ability to maintain the frequency of the electricity grid, so it doesn’t collapse. You also need storage for reliability, the ability to dispatch electricity on demand, and then of course to get to any of these scenarios you’re investing in solar, wind and transmission lines, the generation and transmission lines.
The purpose of this report, unlike say the Electricity Review, is not to look in depth at the electricity system. It was doing modelling on the electricity system purely to inform it in its deliberations on energy storage and the role it would fulfil. So the figures in this report are not the sort of figures that are intended to inform government policy on the electricity grid. They’re there just to give an order of magnitude to the challenges.
Reporter: Dr Finkel are you frustrated that the National Energy Guarantee has been pushed to the backburner with the citizenship crisis that’s currently in parliament?
Dr Finkel: Look I think that our politicians are more than capable of handling several issues at the same time. It is my understanding and I’m not on the inside of any of this, that the COAG Energy Council will be meeting on Friday to give further consideration to the National Energy Guarantee so it’d be interesting to see what comes out on Friday. I think it’s consideration, not necessarily something definitive, but it’s an important date nonetheless.
Reporter: Does the report tell us that the storage solutions which exist or perhaps will exist in the next ten years support Labor’s theory that they can reach their clean energy target?
Dr Finkel: This report does not address anybody’s policy, anybody’s theories. This report is about storage, storage through batteries, storage through pumped hydro, storage through creating hydrogen.
Don’t forget hydrogen has got enormous potential, where you take the electricity, clean electricity, to make hydrogen from water and you don’t have to use it to then regenerate electricity – that’s one possible use – but using it to substitute methane, that’s natural gas in our reticulated gas supply is another important use and that is storage.
You can store an enormous amount of energy in the gas or hydrogen that’s packed in the pipes. This is not a report that’s making recommendations about anybody’s policy at all.
Reporter: I know you drew this distinction before, but given there’s a bit of confusion this morning around that reliability as opposed to security, the implications for both, power storage and this report.
Dr Finkel: So would you like me to explain the difference?
Reporter: Yes, If you could just give a layman’s, for a broader audience, a layman’s explanation of the difference between the two notions, and the implications for this report.
Dr Finkel: We talk in the electricity industry about security and reliability, and in the electricity industry they have very specific connotations. But in layman’s discussions they often get lumped together: security, reliability, stability, adequacy, they get thrown into the pie.
In the specific language of the electricity system, security is the ability for the whole system to stay functional even when there is a disaster of some kind, such as a lightning strike that takes out a generator or a transmission line. That’s a devastating, very rapid blow to the system, and if you didn’t have the mechanism to deal with security the system would black out across a large area.
Reliability is the ability on a daily basis to dispatch electricity to meet the loads. If there was a failure of reliability it’s more likely to turn up as a temporary, easily reversed localised blackout in a suburb or for a couple of factories. So reliability is the ability to deliver energy, and that’s often associated with storage, security is the ability to keep the system up and that’s associated with maintaining the frequency.
Reporter: Have you been in contact at all in the last few months with AGL boss Andy Vesey, and what do you think of the closure of Liddell coal powered power station, the government wanting to keep it open, despite in this report saying that technology needs to be changing, need to move forward with our technological advancements, but they’re trying to keep open a 50-60 year old coal fired power station.
Dr Finkel: So no, I have not been in touch with Andy Vesey or anyone else about that, so I can only answer in the generalities. We do live in a world of rampant technological change. We’re very aware of it, with our smartphones, with your computers, the lighting systems that we have. But it also affects our transport and it affects our electricity systems. There’s no way one sector of our society can be protected from ongoing technological disruptive change.
The challenge is to manage the transition from here to there. We are going to be moving into a new future, it’s happening all around the world, it’s inevitable. We’d like to do that in a managed fashion.
What this report shows is that with storage available to us, if it’s used effectively, we can manage that transition as smoothly as possible for the lowest possible price. But the transition will happen.
Reporter: How close are we to achieving that level of storage, or how far down the track is it?
Dr Finkel: Oh look, it’s only just beginning. So, South Australia has put in the world’s largest battery, 100 MW capacity battery, from Tesla – it’s not yet commissioned, but it’s coming soon. We’re talking about storage levels out to 2030 through batteries and pumped hydro of at least 50 times that capacity. The Snowy Mountains hydro scheme has storage vastly in excess of that. We’ve got a long way to go, but the quickest way to get to a difficult future is to start now.
Reporter: So just to confirm, you’re saying that part of this report if we do embrace storage and battery storage that the Liddell power station or other coal fired power stations don’t need to be closed, because there will be enough energy to support – to fill that shortfall.
Dr Finkel: The operators of the electricity system have to look at each generator commissioning and closure on its merits. But if you’re looking at the system, it’s quite clear that as we go through the transition – and as I said, that transition is inevitable – we will need storage as a piece of the solution. There is no one solution to the challenges we face.
Reporter: Eric Abetz has expressed disappointment in the latest report, saying it’s more concerned with eco evangelism rather than affordability. Is he on the money?
Dr Finkel: I’m not going to comment on other people’s perceptions of this report. I think this report is broad, fair and reasonable.
Reporter: Just on storage more broadly, is it possible there are other forms of storage coming, say in a couple of decades’ time, that we haven’t even conceived of yet? What are some of those possibilities?
Dr Finkel: It’s a challenge to answer your question about what we haven’t conceived of yet. But the report does talk about multiple storage types. So it’s batteries of many, many different types, compressed air storage, storage in hydrogen, storage in ammonia, storage in molten salts, storage in molten silicon, combining the storage into thermal solar generators.
There are many technologies for storage that are covered in the report. I apologise that it hasn’t covered the ones that haven’t been conceived of yet!