Victorian network operator Powercor has announced plans to install what would be Australia’s largest battery storage system, on its regional grid in Buninyong, south of Ballarat.
The 2MWh lithium-ion battery – which is currently being built in South Korea by Kokam – will be housed in 40 foot shipping container and, the company says, will be capable of providing approximately 3,000 customers with an hour of back-up power during an electricity outage.
But for Powercor, which already has a pretty good record of reliable supply – the network experienced a total of 100 minutes of outages last year – the project is also about assessing the role of batteries on its network and, in some cases, deferring the need for costly upgrades.
“This investment will highlight the capabilities and value of using a battery storage system on a rural long feeder in Buninyong,” said Powercor CEO Tim Rourke in a statement on Thursday.
“Think of it as adding an extra lane to a heavily used highway during peak hour. The battery’s additional capacity will help reduce stress on the network on peak demand days, which then increases the life of the existing electrical asset, reduces maintenance costs and ultimately lowers costs for our customers.”
This is an increasingly familiar refrain from Australian network operators, who appear to be coming around to the reality that more and more renewable energy capacity will be added to the National Energy Market, be it via wind and solar farms, or residential customers choosing to install rooftop PV to address rising energy costs.
Last year, regional Queensland network operator Ergon Energy engaged US-based S&C Electric Company to provide it with 20 battery storage systems with a nominal capacity of 100kWh each, to deploy across its grid.
“If stored energy could be fed back into the network to help relieve peak demand on our network, this could mean less investment needed on infrastructure and hence less cost needed to be passed on to customers,” said Ergon chief Ian McLeod, at the time.
Of course, batteries will not always be the right solution to problems of supply, or to avoid new infrastructure build, as Powercor’s head of strategy and business development, Charles Rattray, pointed out in an interview with RenewEconomy on Thursday.
But in many cases, including the Buninyong example, a line on which Rattray confirms there is an upgrade required in the next few years, installing a battery makes the most sense, both technically and in terms of capital expenditure, as the cost of batteries continues to fall.
It is also an important first step for an electricity distributor that, Rattray says, is doing everything it can to accommodate for an increasing amount of distributed renewables input, and to encourage the energy choices of residential and commercial customers in western Victoria.
“Storage is the missing link in terms of increasing renewable energy mix,” said Rattray, “we’re very interested in how we can use that technology to increase renewable energy, facilitate that increase.”
To this end, Powercor is working with RES, building the owner-operation connection asset for the 40MW Ararat wind farm – the final contracts for which were announced within a day of the reduced renewable energy target bill passing the Senate. It also has between 200-300kW of solar panels on its depots.
“We see our network as the backbone of the future energy system,” Rattray told RE. Customers want renewable energy, he says, but “not everyone can add solar to their roof. We see our role…as to share those (renewable) resources across the grid …which is what a network does so well.”
Powercor expects to commence testing of the battery in December 2015, and to have the storage system fully operational by early 2016.