After years of talk about its potential, 2017 feels like the year that grid-scale energy storage will take off in Australia.
In March South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill released an energy plan for the state, and called for expressions of interest for a new 100MW battery to be built in time for summer. If completed on time and as originally advertised, the battery would be the largest in the world.
With 90 expressions of interest for the project submitted from 10 countries, it seems the market is not so much hungry as ravenous.
South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said interest had been so strong the government was considering breaking the project up into four 25MW blocks.
Among the bidders were Australian businesses such as Carnegie Clean Energy and Zen Energy. Carnegie is involved with building a 2.5MWh battery for CSIRO’s Square Kilometre Array telescope in Western Australia, and Zen Energy was exploring its own utility-scale batteries before the South Australian plan was announced.
But even the remarkable enthusiasm for the SA battery was eclipsed by a similar process run by the Victorian Government for a 20MW battery in the west of the state, which attracted 110 bids. A further 80MW is being sought by Victoria across the network and is expected to attract similarly strong interest.
But it was perhaps a Twitter conversation between Tesla head Elon Musk and fellow billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes that most captured the imagination of the public. Through a series of tweets, Musk pledged to smooth SA’s energy transition within 100 days – “or it’s free”. He even offered to do it for “mate’s rates” after some prodding from Cannon-Brookes.
Add to that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s plan for a new pumped hydro facility in Snowy Hydro 2.0 and a feasibility plan for a similar expansion in Tasmania and it seems large-scale storage really is the new black.
What is currently lacking, though, is a strategic package of energy market reforms that will help to turbo-charge energy storage in Australia and tear down the barriers that currently stand in the way to its wider use in some areas of the country.
But momentum for change is building and reform is now being more seriously investigated by our policy makers and regulators.
All this means large scale energy storage will have a big future in Australia.