Faster, smarter, cheaper: Grid operator hails performance of Tesla big battery

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The Australian Energy Market Operator has hailed the initial performance of the Tesla big battery in South Australia, saying the results of its first four months of operation shows it is faster and smarter than conventional turbines.

The 100MW/129MWh Tesla big battery, officially known as the Hornsdale Power Reserve, was officially switched on in December 1, with 70MW providing network security for the grid operator, and another 30MW operating energy arbitrage in wholesale markets.

How this battery’s abilities has been sliced and diced has been fascinating to the industry. Contrary to the constantly dismissive remarks of conservatives and the pro-coal lobby, it’s the performance of this battery that has impressed observers, including AEMO.

In a new report, the grid operator used these series of graphs below to illustrate how the battery was used in the frequency control and ancillary services market, providing a much more accurate response than conventional generators, and a much faster response.

The first illustration is the response to a major outage of a fossil fuel generator in NSW on December 18 (different to the one highlighted by RenewEconomy in Victoria on December 14, see our story Tesla big battery outsmarts lumbering coal units after Loy Yang trips).

The response of the Tesla big battery in the so-called “contingency FCAS market”, triggered when frequency deviates below 49.85Hz, was virtually immediate.

“Commissioning tests and simulations confirm that the HPR is capable of responding more rapidly to a contingency event than conventional synchronous generation,” AEMO notes in its report.

And the battery is significantly more accurate than conventional turbines.

These graphs published by AEMO indicate the response in the regulation FCAS market by both conventional steam turbine, and then by the Tesla big battery.

In the first graph, it shows the conventional turbine response to AEMO demands, in much the same way as a drunk may walk across the street, or throw darts at a dartboard.

The next graph shows the response of the Tesla big battery – a constant bullseye. “Experience shows that the HPR is capable of providing very high quality regulation FCAS,” AEMO notes.

Sadly, as Tesla has said on several occasions now, and as AEMO recognises in this report, there is actually no market in Australia for such speed and accuracy.

Even the conventional turbine staggering across its target range is operating within industry standards, but AEMO recognises that there could be a strong case for such markets to be developed, particularly as the grid changes to more inverter based technologies (wind and solar), and away from synchronous generation.

AEMO also notes the battery’s impact on the regulation FCAS market, which deals with slow moving frequency disturbances.

“This market has seen high prices for this service for the two years prior to the battery becoming operational,” AEMO notes. RenewEconomy has written more expansively on the battery’s ability to smash the gas cartel’s dominance of those FCAS markets.

So, not only is it faster and smarter, the battery storage technology also provides a cheaper outcome.

“This is the first time regulation FCAS has been provided in the NEM by any technology other than conventional synchronous generation,” AEMO notes, adding that the ¬†neighbouring Hornsdale Wind Farm has also recently trialled operation to provide regulation FCAS.

Remarkably, the bulk of the battery’s discharge capacity – 70MW – has not even been used yet. It is there sitting in reserve in an emergency – like the state government owned diesel gen-sets – but has not yet been called upon.

But its value is clear, and AEMO says it the battery will also be incorporated into a new control scheme –¬†the System Integrity Protection Scheme (SIPS) – designed to stop the state separating from the main grid.

Its role will be to provide extra response in case of a major frequency disturbance, or a sudden surge on the interconnector – effectively holding the grid together while the remaining slow-moving conventional generators get into gear.

AEMO notes that future batteries may not have the same set-up as the Tesla big battery, because the needs in different parts of the grid are different.

“Operation of the HPR to date suggests that it can provide a range of valuable power system services, including rapid, accurate frequency response and control,” it writes.

“The funding arrangements for the HPR meant there was a focus on ensuring all its capabilities were fully utilised to maximise power system security for South Australia.

“This included engagement with AEMO when control settings and operating arrangements were determined, in a way that would not typically occur for other generation development (where the project developer is responding to existing market signals and arrangements).

“Future development of batteries outside of South Australia might not result in the provision of similar services, due to the way FCAS are currently quantified and rewarded, as well as the voluntary nature of participation in the FCAS market, and in frequency control arrangements more broadly.

“Where other large batteries are established under government incentive schemes, there could be a role for a more prescriptive provision of system security services, to maximise the benefits to the power system such devices can provide.

“Current FCAS market arrangements could also be modified to specifically recognise the rapid and accurate response capabilities of batteries, and therefore enhance their ability to earn income from providing them.”


  • BushAxe

    There’s no need to be derisive towards conventional turbines, they’re working within the laws of physics and will still provide other services like inertia and fault current that batteries can’t. There’s probably a whole article in the SIPS project as it will eventually use all the batteries (280MW) and load shedding to keep the system balanced in the event of loss of a large generator or interconnector (probably another world first).

    • Lachie

      Who is being derisive? If you are triggered by a description of a graph, you are being way too sensitive. Turbines are not the problem, it’s what turns them around that is.

    • Peter F

      Inertia is another way of describing frequency control. The advantage of inertia is, it is passive and self initiating in a very short time frame but is also limited. A 200 MW gas turbine can provide about 20 MWs from inertia over 0.5-3 seconds and then needs to claim it all back over the next 20 seconds. a 30 MW/30 MWh battery can give you 30 MW for 3,600 seconds

    • neroden

      Inertia and fault current aren’t services.

      Frequency control is a service which can be provided by inertia, or better, by batteries.

      • Cooma Doug

        If fault current is not provided the fault is not cleared. Fault current is actually a part of the market because the need is recognised by the security and constraint algorithms.

        • JonathanMaddox

          Fault current is the thing that melts fuses and jumps spark gaps when there is a short circuit in a power system. For the most part there are better ways of dealing with problems than pumping extra current through them. Pumping extra current is merely traditional, rather like burning coal.

          • BushAxe

            Fault current is required to provide protection systems with a distinctly different level of operation to enable them to detect abnormalities. It’s also not just higher currents but the speed at which different parameters change.

      • BushAxe

        System strength is a service provided by the transmission networks and is now an obligation under a new AEMC rule made last year. As a result of AEMO identifying a NSCAS gap in SA Electranet will now contract generation to meet the gap until they develop a long term solution (which will probably be synchronous condensers at Davenport).

  • John Saint-Smith

    Two contrasting responses:
    Elon Musk: “Wow! Did we even dream it could be this good so soon? Put this story up on the website, and start building battery packs.”

    Craig ‘Morons Forum’ Kelly. “Yeah, but who gives a FCAS? I want to know how many houses can it power for a week? Thought so – useless!”

    • Joe

      No doubt The Marshall will be out doing a media gig in front of Elon’s Big Battery at some stage to spruik what a ‘Jewel’ South Australia has. Only thing is it was Premier Jay’s doing.

  • Hettie

    Let’s not feed the trolls.

  • Aluap

    Needless to say all this was known BEFORE the Hornsdale Power Reserve was turned on. All you had to do was read the specifications and know that digital processes are very quick.

    • Justinas

      Yes, but seeing numbers in action is different. It’s not just numbers, it’s a proof of work…

      • Aluap

        Any expert could have worked this out beforehand. The Weatherill government obviously did when they dictated the terms of their contract with Tesla.

  • Bonnie Le

    Solar/battery plus nuclear power will solve Australia’s potential energy crisis for the next 500 years. I don’t know why Australia, with the worlds largest Uranium deposits isn’t building Nuclear reactors like crazy. We need to vote in the Politicians who will.

    • Hettie

      Probably because we also have fantastic solar and wind resources which are much cheaper and faster to harness than nuclear, and do not have the intractable problem of waste disposale that nuclear has, or the potential for horrific accidents.
      Nuclear reactors take about 15 years from concept to commissioning.
      Wind around 5 years
      Solar 2 years or less.
      Others on these pages can tell you the costs per megawatt hour of each, but I’m fairly certain that nuclear is far more expensive than either wind or solar.
      And consider the terrible costs of the Fukushima disaster in human lives, pollution of the land, and the ongoing flow of polluted water into the Pacific Ocean. That radiation pollution has now reached California – the whole pacific Coast of the Americas will be affected.
      Sun and wind are safe.
      Nuclear is manifestly unsafe.

      • John Burr

        I agree that for Australia, free, renewable power is abundant enough to power the whole nation, but your assessment of nuclear is archaic. The new thorium reactors are nothing like that. They are actually able to consume the nuclear waste from the old style reactors while not producing waste of their own. Also, physics prevents the new reactors from having a Chernobyl-style melt-down. And before you ask, the reactor that leaked in Japan wasn’t a thorium reactor.

        • Hettie

          Granted. However, there remain the important issues of time from concept to commissioning, cost of construction, and ongoing costs of fuel, management and maintenance.
          On all of these points, nuclear comes last by a very long way.

          • Petrus Steenkamp

            And more than half that time is normally spent arguing with paranoid and disturbed people about how the operation of the plant is far less likely to kill them than meteorites. Of course if you want to full benefit of building this infrastructure you actually have to erect the universities and educational infrastructure to train the people and that certainly takes longer than 15 years. The Russians have just about foreclosed on this market and while the Chinese may still have a chance i guess whatever immediate future there is in contracting with the Russians.

            That and spending the resources on creating a seriously high tech industry is probably why nuclear generation wont happen in Australia or many other places.

          • Hettie

            Not to mention that in the face of the climate emergency, we just don’t have time to mess about.
            Renewables are quick and cheap compared to nuclear, and coal, as well as squeaky clean, compared to coal.

          • Petrus Steenkamp

            When people want to sell you something based on an emergency ( however convincing it seems ) you should smell crisis capitalism and carefully consider your options about how the emergency will affect you and how dangerous the ‘solution’ is. Of course since there is nothing dangerous about Solar/Wind/Tidal, but the possible corruptness of the contractor/expense of the project, i think nuclear will gain traction in so far as the massive demand for renewable’s wont and perhaps can’t be met soon.