How King Island may be a blueprint for our future grid

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Hydro Tasmania has selected the supplier for the largest battery system ever to be installed in Australia. The King Island renewable plan could be a blue-print for how other remote grids, and ultimately the National Electricity Market, move to 100 per cent renewable energy.

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Hydro Tasmania is to install a 3MW battery storage facility on King Island – the largest battery array in the country – in what it expects could give a glimpse into how the National Electricity Market will operate some time in the future.

The 3MW battery array will feature Australian designed technology supplied by Ecoult, the local subsidiary of the US-based East Penn Manufacturing Co, and is part of the $46 million project to build a fully renewable integrated grid on the island, located in Bass Strait to Tasmania’s north.

The “ultra battery” array was chosen not just for its ability to balance the output of wind, and fill in the gaps, but also because of its ability for all of the island’s power needs for up to 45 minutes.

It means that the island’s diesel generators, which have underpinned the electricity supply for decades, will be able to be switched off completely at certain times. This delivers a considerable saving, because if generators are used at all, they usually need to run at a minimum output of around 30 per cent.

The battery system will be integrated with wind and solar power, and a newly opened system that improves the integration of diesel generators with renewables. Over time, the imported diesel will be substituted with a locally sourced biodiesel, and total emissions will be cut by 95 per cent.

Hydro Tasmania’s head of renewable asset development, Simon Gamble, said there are hundreds of isolated systems such as this one, and thousands in the region, that need this sort of solution. “King Island is the test bed for our products,” he told RenewEconomy.

And Gamble noted that while some island nations are looking to 100 per cent renewable solutions, often by combining solar with battery storage for small villages, few faced the need to provide industrial customers as occurs on King Island.

For this reason, he said King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project would provide an insight into how the Australian grid might look in a few decades – a combination of renewables backed up by dispatchable power and with storage solutions. The King Island system will also feature smart grid technologies, demand management, and electric vehicle charging.

“The NEM is a much larger system, but it will have similar technical issues,” Gamble said. “If we are integrating more wind, and solar, we need to learn how to do it.”

King Island’s transformation began by introducing a couple of small wind turbines in 1998, which cut the usage of diesel by 15 per cent. “It was a bit of a no-brainer”, Gamble said. Diesel fuel had represented 80 per cent of energy costs on the island. Additional turbines installed in 2003 cut the diesel use further, but the big challenges lay with getting greater penetration of wind, and to integrate that into the system.

Once complete, King Island will have around 8.5MW of wind, just 100kW of solar PV (not a lot of sun), and battery storage. The aim is to reduce the consumption of diesel by at least 65 per cent, and then to eliminate the expensive and imported mineral diesel altogether with a locally sourced biofuel. The big difference with the mainland is that the NEM is likely to have a much large proportion of solar – both PV and solar thermal – over time.

He said the choice of Ecoult’s “ultrabattery” offering – over 20 competing proposals, including lithium-ion and flow battery solutions – was a “technical” one, based on its ability to balance and to supply energy.

The UltraBattery is a class of advanced lead-acid batteries that was invented by the CSIRO that boasts its high cycling life, high conversion efficiency and low operating costs. It has been used in the Hampton wind farm in NSW, and with solar farms and grid regulation situations overseas.

Ecoult CEO John Wood says he sees a growing market in the use of storage in the grid – for frequency regulation, and smoothing the output of renewables such as solar and wind.

Batteries will emerge as a critical component to matching supply and demand, and he says they are rapidly becoming competitive in costs. “We’re not that far from being part of the normal part of the kitbag for use by grid engineers,” he says.

“King Island will be an architecture that is used again and again and again.” He suspects that the market for variability management and remote storage will be larger than UPS (uninterruptible power supply) market is now. There is around 20GW of UPS storage in US today.

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6 Comments
  1. David 6 years ago

    The solution sounds utterly stupid. There are only 1700 people on King. That is a project cost of $27000 per person! Say $100000 per household on top of the existing infrastructure! If they persist with a lopsided system with 85 times as much wind capacity as solar it is just a waste. It would be much better to offer every customer a free 10 kW solar system (providing say 4 MW peak) at a cost of say $20 million. Combine this deliberate excess generation with smart meters which gracefully shut down the solar to provide regulation, and a time of use tariff to encourage people to use power during the day. The existing diesels would clean up any unmet demand.

  2. Tim Buckley 6 years ago

    King Island is a perfect choice for trialing battery storage technologies for grid support in conjunction with variable renewable energy generation. Diesel electricity generation replacement is a logical priority target given it is very expensive, polluting and generally reliant on imports into Australia. Ecoult is a logical choice given its technology leadership and joint venture with East Penn, one of the world leading manufacturers of advanced batteries. The potential target market for this hybrid, renewable technology mix is very significant, both for the multitude of diesel dependent islands in Asia-Pacific, as well as off-grid applications in mainland Australia, particularly in the mining sector which needs 24/7 power supply certainty. Australia will benefit through the practical experience of learning by doing in the local context. In all, a great project to demonstrate locally the viability of renewable energy coupled with battery storage.

    • David 6 years ago

      King Island is a bad choice as a demonstrator for grid support batteries and on the basis of the project costs cited, this is a bad project as a renewables based grid demonstrator (regardless of scale). As I understand it, the current diesel cost is about $4 million per year (much of that is tax). How is it justified to spend $46 million to save just part of this? Without a big brother to buy it for them, nobody would install this system.

      It would be more representative and more economically sensible to build a demonstrator on a Barrier Reef island where the generation was solar PV and the consumer actually paid the real system costs so that they had some incentive to manage it economically.

      Based on Hydro published data; the island has an average demand of less than 2 MW (3.4 MW peak). If you simply spent $40 million on a mix of half wind/half PV, you would get about 6.5 MW average or more than 3 times the average King Island load. (Even more with the existing wind and solar added). Because of the mix of generation and over supply, there would be very few instances where diesel generation is needed and these would be quite predictable.

      With the remaining $6 million you could reduce the demand. Buy every customer on the island a new heat pump hot water system (with as big a tank as will fit) AND fit a new standard type smart meter to control them AND do a free energy audit on their property AND provide free replacement LED lights throughout AND provide a free replacement, high efficiency refrigerator. You would still have money left.

      The most cost effective part of the scheme is the free customer equipment. In fact, why not just buy everyone on the island the new stuff and forget the rest. It would probably save as much diesel as the planned system and would cost very little.

      Even more cost effective: increase the tariff to even half of the actual cost of supply and the customers will install the PV and buy the equipment for themselves.

  3. John P Morgan 6 years ago

    Domestic applications like this have been around for years.
    And because the renewable energy resources are widely distributed, there is no need for a ‘grid’ based system unless an analysis has shown that this option is cheaper than a larger set of individual installations.
    Families that already have their own battery based supply are generally happy about the fact that their response is cheaper than being on the grid, whether it is renewably powered or not.

  4. Chris Fraser 6 years ago

    I have heard the CSIRO battery is like a capacitor – it can discharge its whole energy capacity in a very short time. Wonder if there are applications for storage (where say there is not so much dairy-intensive industry) where LiFePO4 could get a look-in ?

  5. Barrie Harrop 6 years ago

    Its collection of bits and pieces who going take the care for the systems integrity and support such system the pricing they are talking about is just not commercial.
    Its not scalable and is depending on Govt handouts.

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