The story here is not that planning for the largest storage battery in the world is going forward in the New South Wales, Australia. The story is that this is happening despite fierce opposition to renewable energy by the Australian government. In effect, the individual states and several energy producers are thumbing their noses at the unremitting intransigence of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his enablers.
Origin Energy is an Australian energy producer that operates that nation’s largest coal fired generating station, the 2.9 GW Eraring facility located south of the port city of Newcastle. It announced this week it is seeking proposals to build a 700 MW/2800 MWh battery on the grounds of the Eraring power plant, which is scheduled to close in 2032. One of the biggest costs associated with renewable energy is building the infrastructure needed to connect renewables to the electrical grid. The new battery will allow Origin to use the plant’s existing infrastructure and network connections long after the plant has stopped producing energy by burning coal.
Origin’s executive general manager Greg Jarvis tells ABC News the company has already begun talking with network company Transgrid about connecting the new battery to the grid. He added the new battery will support the NSW energy grid’s transition away from fossil fuels and speed the development of new solar and wind projects in the years to come. The Eraring battery storage facility will be built in three stages, with the first scheduled to go online in late 2022. The company declined requests to further elaborate on the timeline for the project.
“We recognize we have an important role to play in positioning Origin’s electricity generation portfolio to support Australia’s rapid transition to renewables,” Jarvis says. “A large scale battery at Eraring will help us better support renewable energy and maintain reliable supply for customers by having long duration storage ready to dispatch into the grid at times when renewable sources are not available. The deployment of this battery at Eraring will support Origin’s orderly transition away from coal-fired generation by 2032, while complementing the policy objectives of the NSW energy road map.”
Marnie Shaw, a research leader in the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program at the Australian National University, says this was a “big announcement. The new battery…..is more than four times the size of Australia’s largest battery at Hornsdale. I’m surprised because we’re not used to big numbers like this with batteries, but also not surprised as it’s so needed. It’s the important next step to support the very large-scale installation of renewable energy projects in NSW. It’s conveniently making the most of transmission assets that are already existing at Eraring. You make use of substations that are already there and the powerlines. The batteries will be providing an important role in stabilising the power grid as we move to renewables.”
Shaw also slammed the ScoMo government, saying the private sector could benefit from more policy certainty at the federal level. “It would definitely be better to have more clear signals from the Federal Government about their strategy of supporting investment in renewables going forward. That would allow smaller companies to be able to play a role in the transition as well as there’d be less financial risk.
“The Australian Energy Market Operator has a plan — the integrated systems plan — but again it would benefit from Federal Government support. People should care about these batteries because they support our transition to a low carbon economy, which is reducing the impacts of climate change, energy prices, and supporting new investment and jobs in Australia,” she said.
Make no mistake. Origin Energy will still rely heavily on fossil fuels, especially natural gas, in the years ahead. What is important about this announcement is that the Eraring battery will make it more likely that Origin Energy will prefer more renewables instead of more thermal generation in the future. Battery storage is exploding all across the nation. The Australian Energy Market Operator tells ABC News there are now almost 7000 MW of battery storage in the planning stage all across Australia, enough to power 3.5 million homes.
The state of New South Wales has recently created two renewable energy zones, one north of Sydney and the other west of the city, as it prepares for a zero emissions energy future. For years, renewables were looked upon as strange creatures on the far fringe of reality. No more. Renewable energy projects are now front and center in every Australian state, especially South Australia where Tesla’s audacious virtual power plant involving rooftop solar and residential storage for 50,000 low income households is taking shape.
How long will it be before the national government stops promoting coal and puts its shoulder to the wheel to move the renewable energy revolution forward? The answer is, just as soon as the people vote ScoMo and his fossil fuel stooges out of office. It can’t come soon enough for Australia and the world.