Big Batteries — Squeezing Out The Gas In Australia

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Why is squeezing out the gas so important? Electricity produced by gas peakers is the most expensive in the Australian grid. All electricity providers can then match that price even if they are producing electricity from free wind or sunshine. Batteries can store Australia’s massive oversupply of electricity produced during the day from abundant sunshine, and feed it into the grid when the demand is highest in the evening (5:00 pm – 7:00 pm), thus squeezing out the gas and reducing power prices for all.

Indeed, battery power is already replacing gas in the evening peaks, especially in Victoria, according to posts on X. Gas is the main driver of price hikes in Australia. If gas peakers can be pushed out of the grid, then the theory is that prices will drop. Batteries are already doing this and have the potential to do more.

According to Hot Copper, quoting the grid data collector NEMLog GPE2, “the record for battery charging leaped to 766 MW on Sunday at 12.55pm, up more than 110 MW from its previous peak of 650 MW set in January. .. At the time of the new battery charging records, prices across the main grid were mostly negative, at an average of minus $3 a megawatt hour, and particularly in Victoria, where prices had fallen to minus $30/MWh.” That’ll lead to squeezing out the gas!

Victoria is home to the country’s biggest fully operating battery, the 300 MW, 450 MWh Victoria Big Battery, and the 150 MW, one-hour Hazelwood battery (suitably built on the site of a former coal-fired power station). According to the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO), there are already 1.4 GW of battery capacity in the grid, and approximately 4 GW are in the pipeline.

Watching the renewable energy news, it appears that there are several announcements of a new battery or an expanded project every few days in Australia. Like this one from the Queensland State Government, doubling the size of the planned battery project at Stanwell coal-fired power station near Rockhampton. “Storage will increase from 150MW/300MWh (two-hour duration) to a 300MW/1,200 MWh (four-hour duration) battery system.” Sadly, the coal fired power station is not slated for closing for another 20 years – perhaps it will be overtaken by the renewable transition?

Penny Sharpe, Minister for Climate Change and Energy for the state of New South Wales, has said: “NSW is now about halfway towards our 2030 renewable generation target, and over a quarter of the way there on our long-duration storage target.” The press release lists projects with a cumulative capacity of over 3 GW under consideration, some of which will be completed next year.

South Australia, famous for the Tesla Big Battery — the largest in world for some time — has not yet finished its transition to clean energy. With over 200 MW of battery capacity already operational, the state government plans to further future proof the state with its AU$50 million Grid Scale Storage Fund and South Australia’s Virtual Power Plant.

By the end of next year, Synergy’s giant Collie BESS project should be completed in Western Australia. Collie was a coal town that until recently was not in favour of renewables. The council even voted not to install solar panels on the roof! Times have changed and progress is rapid. The Collie thermal coal-fired power station will be decommissioned in 2027. The big battery storage capacity of 2 GW planned for Collie is equivalent to what was available in all of Australia’s batteries combined in 2022. The BESS will have an output of 500 MW. The trophy for Australia’s biggest battery must be getting worn out from being passed through so many hands!

Neoen, a major French independent power producer, proposes building another BESS at Collie — the additional BESS would initially be 200MW/800MWh but could later be expanded to 1GW/4GWh if the market needs it. The Western Australian grid is not linked to the rest of Australia.

AEMO has reformed the regulations around big batteries and virtual power plants so that they will be able to deliver more flexibility to “deliver their full suite of services.” The rules around bidirectional flows have been simplified. These reforms going live June 1st will enable BESS to shift excess energy from the middle of the day to the evening high demand times — thus, flattening out the duck curve.

Australia’s Federal Labour Government has just handed down its latest budget. The budget contains, amongst many other things, what Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie says is “an essential signal” across Australia’s entire economy.

“Gas and coal are not part of the budget’s vision for a Future Made in Australia, underlining that our next era of prosperity can be built on cleaner foundations. Building a renewable future and clean industrial base will deliver good jobs and greater prospects for Australians. This is critical to slash climate pollution and protect our kids’ future. The budget makes an important and overdue opening bid to claim our place as one of the world’s clean energy market leaders. Both sides of politics should back this vision for Australia. It’s not political, it is for our kids.”

Of course, the opposition Liberal/National Party (Conservative) oppose it (I guess that is their job). As an alternative, they are promoting nuclear power stations which will be horrendously expensive and take at least a decade to build. Ironically, their sitting members are now in a quandary — none of their electorates wants a nuclear power station in their backyard! Having spent ten years in power denying anthropogenic climate change, they’ll probably spend the next ten years denying the efficacy of renewable energy to solve the problem. I think they promote OCD — obfuscation, confusion, and delay!

Chris Bowen, Australia’s Minister for Climate Change and Energy, states that the budget contains “$1.7 billion for the Future Made in Australia Innovation Fund to unlock private capital across new industries like green metals and low carbon liquid fuels and $1.5 billion to build capability in solar and battery manufacturing that strengthens supply chain resilience. $1.9 billion to recharge ARENA’s core mission developing, commercializing, manufacturing and deploying new renewable energy technologies.”

Hydrogen gets a mention, and even more support: “Supercharging Australian renewable hydrogen with $6.7 billion over the decade for a new production tax incentive of $2 per kilogram starting from 2027–28; and $2 billion for a new round of the successful Hydrogen Headstart program to give long-term certainty for the large-scale renewable hydrogen industry, critical for future green iron and steel opportunities.”

And for the working man: “$91 million to turbocharge the clean energy workforce for the jobs of the future, including boosts to training, to apprenticeships and to facility and equipment upgrades across occupations like wind, solar, pumped hydro, large-scale battery, electricity networks, hydrogen and more.”

Further information is expected when the government releases its “National Battery Strategy,” which will detail how Australia’s battery industry can be transformed — moving up the value chain — using the Battery Breakthrough Initiative ($523.2 million over 7 years) announced in the budget.

Of course, this is nowhere near the funds provided in the USA by the Inflation Reduction Act, but it is a good beginning. At least there were no new funds for gas in this budget. The future looks bright, battery powered, and electric as new BESS squeezes out the gas!

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David Waterworth

David Waterworth is a retired teacher who divides his time between looking after his grandchildren and trying to make sure they have a planet to live on. He is long on Tesla [NASDAQ:TSLA].

David Waterworth has 753 posts and counting. See all posts by David Waterworth