The grid Australia wants, deserves and can achieve will be dominated by variable renewables. And although this solution is still some way off, as coal stations are retired over the next 20 years or less, the vast amount of storage required to manage all of that wind and solar generation is being planned today.

It will take a lot of skill to pull off the design and connection of enough energy storage to calm a national grid. As a way of moving things up a gear, the Australian Battery Society, a networking, information and training hub for the battery industry, has launched the Energy Renaissance Innovator Award.

“The aim is to support people who want to transition to the clean economy,” says Australian Battery Society director Dr Adam Best. “It’s about trying to foster the talent that exists in Australia and show that there’s an opportunity and career path.”

Ten awards of $2,500 each will be given to successful applicants to increase interest and further research and development in the field of electrochemical energy storage in Australia.

About 250MWh of storage is connected to the National Electricity Market with another 1,000MWh under construction. Planned and announced storage projects put all of that in the shade, however. As solar and wind plants are built to connect to a congested grid, the storage pipeline is a multiple of gigawatts, not including pumped hydro.

It starts now

In many ways Australia is a test case for large-scale storage and yet Best says the local industry has a way to go to catch up to “extremely mature” levels of research and industry experience globally.

This is evidenced, he says, by the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC), a locus for government, industry and academia to test new ideas and technology. “It was created to spur more activity and help people move up the supply chain … to give them the skillset to be part of the global battery value chain.”

When it comes to raw materials used in batteries, Australia is well ahead. We are the world’s largest supplier of lithium and have deep reserves of nickel, copper and aluminium.

“Pretty much everywhere else, we’re a laggard,” Best says. “We have yet to establish cell manufacturing capability, though we do a lot of pack and battery assembly-type work. There are areas we can absolutely get better and areas where we need to start. There is plenty of opportunity there.”

Cell by cell

Most of the cells used in popular battery technology come from international industrial giants such as LG, Samsung, CATL and Panasonic. It’s possible for Australia to set up a cell manufacturing line, Best says, as demand is almost guaranteed.

“There is ample demand for transitioning to a clean economy and there are plenty of ways to do that,” he says. “It’s doable, but we have to be thoughtful about the cell chemistry we manufacture, the size and format and whether it can be a sustainable business.”

Battery management software is an important parallel industry that Best dedicates his time to in his role as principal research scientist at the CSIRO, where he is working on a project with Australian battery technology company Energy Renaissance and the FBICRC.

What can go wrong

Safety is a primary concern among developers as they seek approval for giant storage projects around the country and Best acknowledges lithium “has its challenges, particularly when you get it to scale”. The industry saw what can go wrong when Neoen’s Victorian Big Battery ignited during testing in late July, with two Tesla Megapacks destroyed. To put it very simply, software may have been the culprit in that episode, according to a report from Energy Safe Victoria ahead of a final independent report expected later in November.

“There are plenty of layers of safety that can be integrated into lithium systems … and there are other chemistries around that may not necessarily be as energy dense as lithium but have a much better safety footprint than lithium does.”

Best can’t comment on the cause of the Victorian Big Battery fire.

Get in touch

The Australian Battery Society award, which is sponsored by Energy Renaissance, will cover a range of interests including battery chemistry, prototyping, the design of battery packs, development of safety and control systems and battery use and recycling. It’s an open brief, Best says. For example, students at universities or TAFE who want help with costs to attend a conference, visit a research institute or undertake a period of study somewhere can apply. Applicants may already work in the storage sector or want to expand their skills.

It’s also open to teachers of STEM subjects who are interested to learn more about electrochemical energy storage so they can produce teaching materials to encourage students towards jobs in clean energy via studies in related fields, such as engineering, he says.

Applications close on December 17. If you’re interested, here’s where to go …