Greens push 20GW energy storage target to shift debate from baseload

By Giles Parkinson on 4 October 2017

The Australian Greens have unveiled a new policy that aims for 20GW of energy storage to be installed across the nation by 2030, providing incentives for storage at household and grid level, and try to move the energy debate beyond the limited scope of baseload vs renewables.

The policy was unveiled in South Australia on Wednesday by deputy leader and climate and energy spokesman Adam Bandt, and South Australia Senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

Their goal is to try and “supercharge” the household and business storage market, and set national milestones similar to the renewable energy target to reach their goal by 2030.

The Greens say that 20GW could translate to 400GWh of storage, enough they say – according to recent studies by the ANU – to provide sufficient back-up for a 100 per cent renewable energy grid.

To reach such storage levels, it would presumably need to include a major scheme such as Snowy 2.0 or Tassie 2.0, as well as battery storage at local and grid level, other pumped hydro storage of the type being considered for South Australia, and solar thermal.

The fact that most of these projects are having their first run in South Australia – the Tesla big battery, the AGL virtual power plant, the Aurora solar thermal project, and the Cultana pumped hydro facility – made it an appropriate place for the launch of an energy storage target.

South Australia also has the highest level of renewable energy penetration of any large modern grid, with wind providing around half of its demand, and rooftop solar another 7-8 per cent.

“To have an orderly energy transition away from coal and gas we need energy storage throughout the system,” Bandt says.

“This includes batteries in homes and businesses to reduce demand, as well as on the grid to provide frequency control. We also need small to medium scale pumped hydro to provide flexible generation to complement wind and solar.”

The political debate around energy baseload has become stuck in the argument over baseload versus variable renewables, and become bogged down by the Coalition push to have the ageing Liddell kept on line and even a new coal generator built in north Queensland.

In doing so, the debate has largely and deliberately ignored the subtleties and complexities identified by the recent Finkel Review and the AEMO reports, which focus on the need for flexible and “dispatchable” generation – and which make it clear that properly managed, a high penetration renewables grid is eminently feasible.

“We don’t have a base load problem, we have a peak load problem,” Bandt says. “We need flexible generation and energy storage to manage the transition, not more coal.”

A glimpse into how quickly the tradition could and might happen came the unveiling of the first stage of the Tesla big battery last week, when Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk revealed that half of the project had already been installed. The quicker we get more renewables into the system, the better, Musk said.

Major manufacturers in Australia are also picking up on the benefits of renewables, for cost and reliability. The new owners of Whyalla Steel and the former OneSteel assets across the country plan a program to transfer their energy sources to renewables and storage, as does the country’s biggest greenhouse proposed by Nectar Farms.

Across the globe, the world’s biggest companies – Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft – are heading for 100 per cent renewables  (most by 2020), and these are being matched by big investment banks such as JP Morgan and Citibank, and brewers and retailers like In-Bev (owner of Foster’s) and IKEA.

Australian networks also say that 100 per cent renewable energy, or thereabouts, is both doable and affordable, but the country has yet to see a coherent plan to take the energy share to a high level of renewables and with the necessary infrastructure and storage to support it.

The Greens say their energy storage target is part of a suite of initiatives that include the creation of a Frequency Control and Ancillary Services Market to enable participation of energy storage in fast frequency response, and the shifting to a 5 minute settlement rule for the wholesale energy market. Many of these are already in train.

It also proposes to support and extend the various state government energy storage tenders (currently being held by South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, and on a smaller scale by the ACT and the Northern Territory) to push for the increased take-up of electric vehicles and to introduce them into the grid as a storage component.

For consumers, the policy suite would see a small-scale energy storage scheme (based on the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme which applies to rooftop solar), which would be managed by the Clean Energy Regulator. Systems of up to 250KW/1MWh will be eligible.

On the grid scale, it proposes establishing a Commonwealth Large Scale Energy Storage Scheme, with $2.2 billion in funding over 4 years to contract and build energy storage at grid level, managed by AEMO and the CER.

“People are already starting to install batteries in their homes,” Bandt says. “We want to supercharge demand for batteries in households and business, saving people money and creating jobs with a program that mirrors the support for rooftop solar.”

“Snowy 2.0 is a nice idea, but if the government was serious about energy storage it would put in place a target and incentives for storage right across the electricity network, not just in one place.”

Hanson-Young says that South Australia is already leading the world in renewable energy generation and was installing grid level battery storage, but there is much more to do.

“Turnbull’s plan for more coal authored by Tony Abbott and Labor’s plan for more gas is not the solution. We need more renewables and more storage.

“A national energy target can support projects like the planned solar thermal power plant in Port Augusta that uses molten salt storage or the proposed pumped hydro using sea water in the Spencer Gulf. The investment in storage technologies here in South Australia must be supported by a national plan.”

The Greens policy outline acknowledges the critical role that energy storage can play to “decouple” supply and demand on the electricity grid, making electricity akin to a normal commodity that can be warehoused and distributed with a much greater degree of control.

This can boost the efficiency of the grid; improved utilisation of generation, increase renewable energy sources and make them flexible.

“While energy storage, particularly battery storage, will grow, there are significant barriers to the planning, penetration and the speed of investment needed to underpin a 50% or 100% renewable energy grid.

“A number of countries and other jurisdictions are putting in place or examining storage targets and other policies to support investment energy storage, including in California which, four years ago, set a 1.3 GW storage target by 2020.”