Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg has called an urgent meeting of federal and state energy ministers aimed at stopping a repeat of this month’s power crisis in South Australia.
Mr Frydenberg said the meeting on August 19 would look at how higher shares of wind and solar energy and new technologies such as batteries can be integrated into the energy mix in a way that keeps energy markets stable and secure.
This is welcome news.
“To my thinking you can’t do lower emissions future without thinking about affordable, accessible, reliable. And you can’t have affordable, accessible, reliable without being connected to what our international commitments are to reduce our carbon footprint.”
It is my hope that the meeting will critically examine how these issues mesh together – particularly when it comes to the hyperbole and reality around batteries.
We already have demonstrations, such as the 1.1 megawatt hour (MWh) Alkimos project in Perth which delivered around $6.1 million per MWh. Then we have the estimates of ESCRI-SA for 2 hours at 10 megawatts of similar lithium technology, costing $24.88 million (i.e. $1.244 million per MWh). If actually constructed, could a startling cost reduction of 80% really be expected? Maybe it could happen, but this is beyond any storage cost optimism to date and already hints at an erosion of the fringes of reality.
A bigger battery is essentially just more lithium cells, such as the ubiquitous 18650: for batteries, economies of scale are predominantly achieved at the factory.
Over recent times the cost of battery storage has been halving every 18 to 20 months.
– from the ALP’s 50% renewable energy summary.
What I’m driving at is that the ministers need to steer clear of the obvious bullshit. The ALP’s policy page is a golden example. “18 to 20 months”? That’s Moore’s Law for transistor density being blatantly misapplied to electrochemical storage technologies – a sadly common transgression. Believing it anyway is only going to dig us in deeper.
A meaningful starting point would be the ESCRI-SA estimate of installation lifespan: 10 years. I’m certain that the National Electricity Market has never relied on such a short-lived piece of infrastructure before. Energy security and climate action demands multigenerational spans for new clean assets, not rollout rates quickly overlapped with replacement rates.
“What staggers me is that policy is allowing renewables to connect to the grid without any real, material obligation on them to manage the intermittent and unstable power they dispatch,” said Mr Green, a former government and private sector adviser on energy [and a partner in Lyon Solar who are planning PV/battery projects].
“The real challenge for governments everywhere is ‘how do you manage these aspirational targets to reduce global [greenhouse gas] emissions and not destabilise the grid or have to spend a lot of money upgrading the grid to cope with the intermittent power?’
South Australia is suffering from the closure of coal-fired power stations that can provide baseload power as well as stability and voltage control, he said.
How much battery storage? Even the most vocal proponents don’t specify, but hopefully some prudent estimates will emerge from this ministerial meeting. For now, let’s look at what was recently, desperately needed in the state, which was one week’s operation of the Pelican Point combined cycle plant. It supplied at roughly 160 MW in that time: 7 x 24 x 160 = 26,880 MWh. So the temporary service provided by less than 40% of a gas power station’s capacity is clearly beyond the reach of a storage installation. Even a day’s worth would take billions of dollars in batteries. And this – the prospect of the sort of sustained high prices which could eventually justify such investments – may be the most unappreciated risk South Australia now faces.