Grid-scale battery storage not yet 'panacea' for Australia renewables | RenewEconomy

Grid-scale battery storage not yet ‘panacea’ for Australia renewables

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University of Queensland solar researcher says grid-scale battery storage not yet cure-all for Australia’s shift to renewables; needs more research.

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A senior solar energy researcher from the University of Queensland has questioned the role of grid-scale battery storage as the “missing link” of Australia’s shift to renewables, and suggested that much more research needs to be done if the technology is to be rolled out successfully.

Kokam can supply a range of battery technologies, including lithium ion. Kokam Read more:

Professor Paul Meredith – who is the head of solar at UQ, and oversees the University’s world-leading research project, the Gatton PV Pilot Plant, which is being conducted in conjunction with First Solar – says that while the technology is available, adding grid-scale battery storage to the NEM will be highly complex, and just one part of the future grid puzzle.

“You have to be very, very careful suggesting that one technology is the panacea,” Meredith said in an interview with RenewEconomy.“It is not a trivial problem.”

Meredith’s comments follow up on last week’s op-ed from energy policy expert and economist Ross Garnaut, who called for the deployment of grid-scale battery storage as an “ready and immediate solution” to the integration of large-scale renewables in Australia.

Garnaut’s article, which was published in the Australian Financial Review, was partly written in response to the South Australian “energy crisis” and the attacks on large-scale renewables uptake that this has provoked.

“An immediate answer is grid-scale batteries, which are being deployed in other developed countries to balance increasing volumes of wind and solar energy,” Garnaut wrote.

“Batteries can respond to the need to add or absorb power in less than a second – much more quickly than gas generators.

“If optimised to maximise value in provision of grid stability services, the battery can store surplus power from excess generation from the midday sun or overnight wind for use in the evening and morning peaks at total costs that are lower than the prices of wholesale hedge contracts, or than exposure to the wholesale market at these times.”

While all this is true of the technology, Meredith argues that “optimising” the batteries is a highly complex business, and needs to be done correctly from the outset, to avoid embedding new inefficiencies into the grid.

At Gatton – a solar research project that has been nearly “five years in the cooking” and which has slashed campus grid electricity use by 40 per cent and delivered a 10 per cent higher average annual energy yield than projected – a 760kWh li-iom battery system by Kokam was chosen to complement the 3.275MW PV array, which is installed over 10 hectares on a former UQ campus airstrip, located at the end of an 11kW SWER (single wire earth return).

Meredith said his team had put a lot of time into choosing the right battery to fit the huge PV array, and had subsequently taken between four and five months to develop an understanding of how to use it properly.

“It’s site by site specific,” he told RE. “You need to know how to optimise the value of the battery and that means when to dispatch the energy, when to discharge, recharge, …the right control system implementation, how to harvest maximum efficiency.

“I’d really like to see … an appreciation of the complexities,” Meredith said. “It’s our job that people understand these things. Certainly we’ve written our own control interface to make sure we use our battery properly.

“More research (into how to correctly deploy grid-scale battery storage) needs to be done very carefully and very fast,” Meredith said. “It will be too late in three year’s time, we’ll have all this battery storage out there not working properly.”

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  1. Ed 4 years ago

    Redflow are doing research with Microsoft and others in Texas.

    “Redflow advises of its involvement in a test program jointly operated by the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI) and Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). The initiative has been co-funded by a consortium of companies including Microsoft.

    This collaborative test program, based at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has spanned over the last five months and continues to test two Redflow ZBM2s, among other flow batteries, to assess their suitability for a range of applications.”

  2. trackdaze 4 years ago

    Wow six months, Makes some sense for academia to overthink things but one questions if a 6mth delay installing energy storage for optimum would ever catch up to one with a 6mth head start with learning?

  3. Ken Fabian 4 years ago

    I would expect most of the optimising of charge and discharge rates or depth of discharge to occur on the job but if the essential requirements to select the batteries and associated equipment and run them isn’t already knowable I’d be very surprised. It’s not like there is any real expectation of sufficient battery capacity being installed, even with aggressive transition policy, to render a backup gas plant unnecessary within the next few years. Early installations will provide valuable data.

    I say start installing some asap and don’t allow the desire for perfect to delay or prevent good enough. Or even, for a time, barely adequate. Especially when improvement along the way, for the initial installations as well as subsequent ones, is virtually certain.

    The true value of storage in a renewable energy rich network is much greater than any average retail energy price can reflect; even relatively small amounts mean significant fossil fuel plant can sit idle for each overnight after each sunny day, without a requirement at first for complete replacement of that plant. It becomes, if used intelligently, it’s own incentive for reducing and time shifting of demand, whether by conscious effort or increasingly by smart and efficient systems.

    • Analitik 4 years ago

      Are you saying that significant fossil fuel plant would still be needed?

      • nakedChimp 4 years ago

        No he says that even small amounts of storage will be able to let a lot of FF sit idle and thus we shall not be too careful with the roll-out as the protagonist of that story further up is proposing.

      • Ken Fabian 4 years ago

        It’s a transition that, by necessity, will happen in stages – enough storage to see fossil fuel plant sit idle after each sunny day rather than ramp up every night is a stage within reach – and is an achievement that should give us confidence. Storage sufficient to abandon fossil fuel as standby backup is not yet within reach but this is technology that is just getting it’s start, but with strong expectation that it will get a lot cheaper and better. I think to expect storage to fully displace fossil fuel plant at this stage is unrealistic – but that is not good reason to limit growth of intermittent renewable energy.

        What continuing growth of low cost solar and wind forcing fossil plant into increasing intermittency will do is create the market based mechanism that policy makers failed to do – one that keeps the growth of solar and wind going strong whilst driving investments in storage at the scales that will lead to it’s ultimate replacement. As long as our big energy players don’t have to they won’t; the rapid growth of solar and wind will mean they will have to. What becomes possible when they (and we) have to may be enough to displace fossil fuels at affordable cost.

        What seems clear to me is that what this previously and even currently costs is a poor guide to what it will cost in the future. It keeps getting cheaper and besides economies of scale there are significant advances already in the pipeline.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      Yes, Dylan McDonnell at Melbourne Energy Institute often makes the point that LCOE is a really poor metric for assessing the ROI and network value of storage.

  4. Ian 4 years ago

    You have to be very, very careful suggesting that one technology is the panacea,” Meredith said in an interview with RenewEconomy.“It is not a trivial problem.”

    Encapsulated in this statement is a precautionary tale. Here is a man who is talking from experience, probably bitter, leaving him a little wiser. But, he has not given us the details and teasing this out could be fun.

    What is it about his experience that he cautions us so?

    Is it the cost of the 760 KWH lithium battery storage? Given that this system is 5 years in the making as it where, the cost of the battery component must have been about $2000/KWH. Daily cycling of this to a DOD of 100% would have pummled these batteries so that they would be reaching the end of their life say 1800 cycles so far. That is over $1/KWH. Considering grid electricity is 1/5 of this cost the economics of storage would only appeal to Early Adopters, or enthusiasts!

    Is it the maintenance and reliability of the battery pack? Was there a problem with cell balancing and dead cells given that lithium battery packs are made up of many individual cylindrical or prismatic cells? Was it plug-and-playable or did it require tinkering and endless monitoring? Was the battery pack too small, in spite of its cost to handle 15 to 20 MWH of solar output a day? Was the overall efficiency of the battery pack smaller than expected given a complex charge cycle requirement to maintain battery health? Did they have problems utilising all that solar power when it was produced at the midday peak and then have insufficient power towards the start and end of the day?

    Dammit man, UQ Gatton has told us nothing with their word of warning. It’s about as useless a bit of information as a 14yo describing their day at school.

    • Ian 4 years ago

      Looking at the live generation data in the RE widget Tasmania has a massive battery and it does not even need charging! Over 1 GW of continuous hydro day and night seems to be produced. Up grade the turbines to 3 or 4 GW, increase the capacity of the Bass link to handle this output and install plenty of solar and wind in Tasmania to compensate for the loss of hydro as a baseLOAD supplier, and the NEM could have plenty of dispatchable electricity generation to supply SA, Victoria and further afield. If battery storage costs $1200/KWH to install behind the meter and has a number of factors making it more expensive such as throughput efficiency and safe DOD we can say battery storage costs effectively about $2000/KWH to install then the equivalent value to the grid of making Tasmania’s hydro capacity dispatchable to customers in SA and Victoria is 4 000 000 x 8 KWH a day x $2000/KWH = $64 billion. In other words, not making Tasmania’s hydro resources fully dispatchable and available to the NEM market as a whole is an opportunity cost of $64 billion.

      Why even consider expensive imported batteries at this time when we have such a massively under-utilised resource as Tasmania’s hydroelectric dams?

      • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

        Network costs are 50% of electricity bills and reducing demand side at peak load maximum reduces the case for gold plating. But your point is well made, if we’re talking about large amounts of virtual load shifting or generation shifting utility scale dispatch like CST with thermal storage and PHES still have the price point covered. I expect in decades to come other chemistries will replace Lithium Ion for stationary energy that can handle 100% DOD and twice daily cycling for behind the meter applications, price arbitrage buying and selling (to offset the capital expenditure of storage) and network services.

  5. Webber Depor 4 years ago

    very beautiful article for elon musk and his team sun-idiots.

    read this again and again: 10 hectars and just %40 of electricity

    • Ren Stimpy 4 years ago

      Stack them two containers high perhaps to halve the space requirement? Then put solar panels on top of them to further utilise the space?

      Battery efficiency is improving so fast, the next project of the same cost and size will service 41% of electricity. The one after that, 42%. The one after that, 43% etc. In other words don’t assume that progress and optimisation in this field are frozen in time. Even at this early stage there is a cost saving on business as usual, and as the project manager said, early projects like this are vital to learning the best way to optimise these such storage solutions.

  6. Don McMillan 4 years ago

    Professor Meredith uses the words “very very careful” “highly complex” “site by site specific”. Engineers are always explaining this to management and politicians. There is a balance in life sometime “diving in” works other times is it a disaster.
    Best way to proceed is with small scale pilots and gradually increase or evolve the technology, this takes time. In OZ I see we are “diving in” big scale which can work but carries greater risk.

    • Alastair Leith 4 years ago

      sorry where are we ‘diving in’ to large scale energy storage since the Snowy Mountain project? Australia and Antarctica the only continents without a utility scale solar thermal with thermal storage plant. Not sure where all those big scale ancillary services and load smoothing batteries banks are hiding at all our wind farms and transformer stations.

      once we have some data from a few trial set-ups computer modelling using behavioural and optimisation modelling can start to get that six months of academic questioning down to short timeframe. machine learning may play a role in the future too.

      • Don McMillan 4 years ago

        There is a lot of money available to invest in renewables. Huge community support. With you knowledge of engineering why not show us how to do it. Design, Business Plan and economics model. I encourage you go out there and show us – we need people like you.

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