Japanese industrial giant Marubeni Corp has signed a landmark deal with Australian investor Providence Asset Group for the development of 30 community-based solar farms which will combine battery and hydrogen storage.
The agreement will see Marubeni subsidiary SmartestEnergy buy the output from the 30 solar farms owned by PAG, which will have a combine generation of around 500GWh a year, broadly equivalent to a 300MW solar installation.
The solar farms will incorporate what the two parties describe as a “world first” dual technology that integrates lithium-ion batteries and green hydrogen energy production and storage units, and they also have an eye on the potential of green hydrogen exports to Japan.
“We have entered the Australian energy market to accelerate the renewable transition away from the traditional energy system,” said Robert Owens, the CEO of SmartestEnergy Australia.
“The battery and the hydrogen transition different to the traditional utility model of having lots of large generators sitting there – it’s just not where things are going anymore. It’s getting less and less relevant.”
PAG intends to deploy Lavo I Heos green hydrogen energy storage and production units – developed at the University of NSW – at the regional solar farm locations.
They provide containerised metal hydride hydrogen storage and production facilities and will be the first of their kind in the world. They will provide 30MWh of storage at each site, which Owens says will deliver a “smooth output” sought by customers.
The Lavo technology is already being sold in smaller, integrated battery and hydrogen units, to households and businesses and are described as a “solar sponge” for rooftop installations.
“This will serve as a flagship project, highlighting the importance of grid-connected fuel cells and projects of this type,” said Alan Yu, the co-founder and chief investment officer of PAG, which invested in the Lavo technology in its early stages.
“It’s another vote of confidence in Australia’s renewable energy industry and provides an ideal base to demonstrate the technical and commercial benefits that commercial scale solar farms coupled with the Lavo | Heos system can deliver.”
Asked about the newness of the Lavo technology, SmartestEnergy’s Owens pointed to the size of its parent company. “We’re not gamblers. We take a sensible and measured view of these things.”
The 30 solar farms are sized at around 10MW each – and as such will avoid some of the toughest connection requirements of the Australian Energy Market Operator – and will be scattered around NSW and Victoria.
Five solar farms in regional Victoria have already been built and purchased – at Katamatite, Numurkah, Echuca West, Echuca and Stanhope, according to an announcement late last year, which also said another six were under construction.
The company did not release details of the additional projects when approached, although its website names Manilla, South Tamworth, Finley, Guyra and Gunnedah as locations for solar farms “under development”.
The deal between PAG and SmartestEnergy is initially for a 30-month period, with an option to extend for another 10 years once all the solar farms are built.
PAG says it will also begin work on developing a green hydrogen export roadmap to Japan, again using the Lavo metal hydride technology, which it says can store and transport green hydrogen safely and efficiently to Japan, and other export markets, inside a standard shipping container.
The Sydney-headquartered PAG is an independent investment firm, founded in 2018, that aims to accelerate clean energy technology, with a focus on communities, businesses and industries.
It aims to support the transition to clean energy by solving global problems through high impact innovations and deep technologies.
SmartestEnergy began operations in Australia in 2020, and is focused on the commercial and industrial energy markets and Owens says it is still in its “build up phase” to set up a renewables based retailer.
“We always offer 100 per cent renewables to our consumers,” Owens says. “There is definitely increasing demand for that sort of product, outside of government policies.”
SmartestEnergy first operated in the UK, where it was founded in 2001, and has since moved to Australia and the US. Marubeni is one of the biggest Japanese industrial companies, with huge interests in the gas industry in the PNG, and minerals, infrastructure and other industries in Australia.