Energy storage one of Australia’s “big opportunities:” Finkel

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Australia’s chief scientist, Alan Finkel, has named battery and energy storage as one of Australia’s biggest economic and innovation opportunities as the electricity grid shifts to renewable energy generation and consumer expectations evolve.

In his delivery of the Zunz Lecture at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum on Thursday night, Finkel said energy storage was “one of the big opportunities” he saw on Australia’s horizon; and one of the questions the National Electricity Market review would have to consider.

Newly appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2015. Dr Finkel will replace current Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb, whose appointment finishes at the end of the year. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel

“While the NEM has served us well, it is nevertheless under pressure from technologies and expectations that are a giant leap from what existed when it was designed,” he said in a speech titled Electric Future: Wiring for Progress.

Finkel said energy storage of all types – including batteries, pumped hydroelectricity and potentially even hydrogen storage – would be the focus of the first in series of new “horizon-scanning reports” commissioned by the Commonwealth Science Council, in an effort to gain insight into the scope of the opportunities presented by the burgeoning sector.

“There is tremendous opportunity for Australian innovation at every point of the (energy storage) chain – from R&D, to manufacturing, to service delivery, to standards and regulations,” Finkel said.

“First, because it is one way we can deal with the problem of intermittency whilst harnessing renewable energy across the grid; and second, because it is a field in which we are starting to play particularly well.”

Finkel pointed to local battery maker Redflow as an example of what can be achieved, as well as Brisbane-based company Tritium, which he noted had spun out of a university solar car challenge to become a highly successful manufacturer of fast-charging stations for electric cars.

“Charge your battery at home – and you’ll wait up to 20 hours. At a Tritium fast charge station you’re done in an hour. And you’ll find them in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, New Zealand, and now coast to coast in the United States,” he said.

Finally, Finkel mentioned the “millions of consumers who leapt at the potential of rooftop solar,” and who were bound to be “keenly interested in batteries as well.”

This same logic has been used by any number of international battery makers as the basis of their decision to launch their residential offerings on the Australian market.

“With good will and time on our side, electricity generation can be decarbonised. Whether it’s hydroelectric dams, or solar and wind, there are many viable technology paths to cutting emissions,” Finkel said.

“There are challenges in bringing them online, but over time, the solutions will come – just as we have learned to harness new technologies before. Our electricity generation mix is changing, and will continue to change. Ultimately, it is the market and the science that will decide.”  

  • Chris Fraser

    I may have heard from blogpost commenters in the past that Dr Finkel likes the idea of nuclear generation. I can imagine that, as a scientist, he likes study of nuclear physics. But seriously, if this storage thing gets up like he describes it’s going to kill any residual sentiment for nukes stone cold dead.

    • lin

      My memory of this is that when Finkel became chief scientist, he said that we should not exclude nuclear from consideration, but a lot would need to change for it to be economically competitive with renewables. Naturally certain media outlets turned this statement into Finkel pushing for immediate development of nuclear.

  • David Hall

    For every dud in politics there are many smarter dudes pursuing innovation and its implementation. I see a refreshing new era on the horizon for Australia. Lets hope the pollies see it as well, otherwise we will just do it without them.

  • john

    With the continued price drop of storage he has a huge point and as he has pointed out this is not the only storage option.
    The continued drop in price of wind and solar and just over the horizon is CSP which may just be most looked at very shortly.
    Any science trained person would come to the same conclusions regardless of his/her area of expertise.
    I wish we had more people who have science degrees in parliament instead of lawyers and career politicians, who did an arts degree or some such.

  • Tomfoolery

    It looks like he had a lot of great things to say and I would have loved to have been present for the talk. However, Tritium’s fast charge network with power rating of 50kw is not that impressive next to Tesla’s worldwide supercharger network with 135kw peak capacity. Competition is great though. Hopefully our universities and research orgs like CSIRO can help push renewables forward with breakthrough technologies coming to market. I’m particularly hopeful with UNSW’s work on solar cell efficiency.

  • Kenshō

    The argument Tesla is making the price of cars and batteries as cheap as possible, as soon as possible, no longer stands.