May 21, 2018

Australia’s green battery revolution will be a long time coming

The government is pulling out the stops to try and slow the effectiveness of energy storage. But change will come.

Chris Woods — Freelance journalist

Chris Woods

Freelance journalist

Australia is ramping up for an energy storage boom, but, once again, political apathy and outdated attitudes are limiting a revolutionary transformation of energy supply.

When South Australia’s Hornsdale Power Reserve came online last November, what was then the world's largest lithium ion battery received both international attention and the expected disinterest from the Coalition.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

20 thoughts on “Australia’s green battery revolution will be a long time coming

  1. graybul

    Another small nugget of wisdom Chris. Interesting linkage of electric cars available as a mobile battery backup to household solar; but doesn’t it make one weep, if not rage, at the vested interests of LNP politicians on-going obstruction. Holding back of national aspirations is nothing short of treason or at least a calculated attack upon young Australians?

  2. 19 maurice

    This is a good review, very interesting and encouraging. In a few short years battery storages will be commonplace and people will forget how they managed without them in the past (like mobile phones now…)
    Please bring it on. Soon as you like…

  3. Geoff Russell

    SA’s “big” battery is many things, but “cheap, despatchable, backup power” is hardly an accurate description. ACOLA’s recent report on storage ( estimated that you’d need 600MW to have prevented SA’s 2016 blackout. So the battery isn’t big enough to do that. What happens if we lose 400 MW and we have a 100 MW/129MWh battery? A backup system would allow the grid to keep functioning … that’s what the word means! At best the battery provides a couple of seconds grace to allow load dumping mechanisms to dump a bunch of suburbs (or industries) with an aggregate load of 400 MW … or to allow the interconnecter supply to rise to fill the gap (assuming it isn’t too heavily loaded). Are batteries being used anywhere on the planet to provide power? Ignoring pumped hydro, the answer is no. They are being used as buffering components in grids, nothing more. Lastly, the falling price of batteries may be coming to an end. Tesla recent raised it’s prices for its home batteries as the global cobalt bottleneck starts to bite. With half of the worlds cobalt coming from the Congo, there’s a serious supply bottleneck. Sure, Congo has plenty more children it can add to the current 40,000 it has in mines producing cobalt for the renewable revolution, but it will take more than just throwing children at the problem. Most cobalt is a byproduct of other mines and it is rarely profitable to increase output of cobalt alone. So look forward to more price rises.

    1. PaulM

      What would have prevented SA’s 2016 blackout was pylons that didn’t fall over in record high winds.

      1. Geoff Russell

        We’ve had other losses of power even bigger than that loss of pylons, but without a state wide blackout. The reason the loss of pylons caused the blackout is quite clear from Table 11, page 55 of the FINAL AEMO report on the blackout. When we had the previous power losses of bigger than 450MW, we had much larger amounts of synchronous power (ie., fewer renewables). These provided the system inertia needed to maintain frequency long enough to shed unmatched load and stop the entire grid crashing. We used to have 10,000 MW.s of inertia, but now with the growth of renewables, we only had 3,000 MW.s when the storm hit.

        1. Graeski

          Let’s just give up and burn more coal. That will fix everything. Especially LNP bank balances.

    2. gjb

      Australia has huge nickel/ cobalt reserves in remote NPY lands of SA and WA particularly. Sadly tax payers are once again subsidizing exploration without any return beside a few dozen jobs created, just sit back and watch as its shipped overseas; only to return 1000% more expensive.

  4. BeenAround

    Thank you Chis for a very good article. The points you make, along with the real-life success of the project at Woking in Surrey demonstrate that household consumers do not need a ‘grid’. Woking went off the UK ‘grid’ in 2008. Therefore, what consumers need is local shared generation and shared power, like Woking. That brings energy down to local control and largely disconnects us from corporate incompetence and greed. Historically, the logic of the grid, which has only really been developed since the early 1960s, was to interconnect big industrial users so that they could be sold cheap power subsidised by individuals. The new and emerging technologies are destroying the logic and the economics of a massive and expensive grid in which over 50% of the electricity generated is simply lost through transmission. But I have no expectations that the neo-liberal dolts in the LNP can even understand this obvious benefit for society. Under neo-liberalism only business ‘competition’ and outrageous rent-seeking can benefit society. The world is indeed MAD.

    1. Geoff Russell

      You want renewables? Then you need a bigger grid, not a smaller one. Why, because you need to shift electricity from where you harvest it to where you need it. And if you harvest over a much bigger area, then you need a much bigger grid. How much bigger? One study reckons 5 to 11 times bigger. In SA, the Libs will be building a new interconnector … why? Because we now have so much wind power that when the wind is blowing, we have to dump electricity. So it’s better to build more interconnections … otherwise nobody will build anymore wind farms. If you can’t sell the power, why would you build it? Is Woking actually cut off from the grid? I’ll be she imports Chinese manufactured goods. Meaning she is dependent on the Chinese grid and probably many more. With HVDC transmission you can move large amounts of electricity with negligible losses.

      1. BeenAround

        I say let’s start thinking more local, smaller, more human, more control by real people. Not bigger, more industrial, remote, submission to corporate stupidity and greed.

        1. Geoff Russell

          A friend of mine is an electrician. He has a few stories of real people and their dodgy, dangerous self installed battery systems. There are really good reasons why we let engineers do engineering, electricians do electrical work and brain surgeons do brain surgery. Look at what has happened with all manner of would be experts thinking they understand climate science better than the scientists. Lack of respect for good science is the major reason we have so much climate denial.

          1. Marcus Hicks

            Ah yes, Argumentum ad Anecdotum, what pro-coal trolls use in lieu of facts or evidence.

            For the record, all bigger grids do is increase T&D losses, & provide ever more points for critical failures. Its the same reason why offices went with networked microcomputers over a mainframe approach.

          2. covenanter

            Yes, Geoff, it would be much better to dispense with the dangerous high voltages that require the services of highly trained and thus expensive electricians.
            The 110 volt system of the US is an example of a low voltage set up for safety.
            Local transmission can be set up to only allow half that voltage to ever be available to provide a shock , which at that level is non-lethal.
            The Rainbow Power Company, a renewables pioneer in Australia, has consulted with intentional communities to provide such safe direct current/battery set-ups for their local grid supply.
            Your electrician friend could easily skill-up to join such an industry, and be part of the solution to dodgy,dangerous self installed battery systems.
            Just takes a bit of physics and electrical engineering, some higher mathematics and a willingness to recognise inadequate understanding, as you so correctly advise.
            Unfortunately technical “specialists” dependent on the ignorance of their customers are sometimes, understandably, unwilling to embrace change.

      2. Mr Bob

        Or you could build more battery banks and harvest the wind power?

  5. CML

    Thanks Chris…what you say about South Australia makes sense to me because I live here.
    What is totally mystifying is that the drongos in this state just voted in a Lieberal government, who will now slowly dismantle all the good work done by Jay Wetherill and the Labor government…just because they can!
    GO FIGURE!!!!!

    1. Marcus Hicks

      There was a swing towards Labor at this election. The Libs only snuck across the line thanks to redrawing of the boundaries.

  6. AR

    Big grids, like big government, may have the ‘power’ to give what you want but also, intrinsically and systemically, have the ‘power’ to take everything you have.
    Small is beautiful – the more one does for oneself the less need for the megacorps.
    All that is needed is an intelligent, altruistic and dependable populace happy to be responsible for its own actions …

  7. Reckons

    “Rather than simply discharge backup wind power (which, as we saw when the Yoy Lang power plant tripped in December, the battery can do)”

    How does auto correct come up with Yoy Lang? Might be about as often as it comes up with Loy Yang hey? Interesting read though.

  8. AR

    The ‘bigGrid’ mindset is dependent on centralised generation so it is hardly surprising that the rationalisations are indistinguishable – “dynamo ergo sum”.
    There are very few, but crucial to modernity, functions for electricity and heat is not even wrong coz it’s so stoopid. (Anyone who cooks with electricity might has well be using whale oil… apart from microwaving, but that was a gift from Aliens.)
    The Great Inland Rail – which should elect BK as its CEO – could be run entirely from the power generated along the thousands of miles of easement by every mix of tek known to genius, inspiration, local conditions, cupidity & stupidity.
    Them wot work, woo-hooo! Now let’s try something else.
    The megaWens clinging to the coasts, from Melbourne (for the moment Adelaide is on probation..err, make that Moderation..) to Brisvegas, yay even unto the Tropic of Capricorn, are dead but just haven’t stopped moving yet due to the necrotic worms of the kultur/polishy/admin clacque.
    It will be necessary to have some border controls, so best that they be on the east of the Sandstone Curtain, lest some escape and pollute our sacred essences.

    1. AR

      …aghh, sorry about the BOLD, it should have ended after ‘tek’.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details