As clean energy sources slowly push aside coal and gas, the next big complexity to solve in Australia’s spindly grid will be the management of unpredictable generation from wind and solar plants. Sophisticated energy storage solutions are nothing new but the costs are falling to a level where manufacturers of the technology are steadily taking orders.

It’s a busy and growing market, with international and local brands bidding for projects around the country in the tens and hundreds of megawatts. The era of storage is underway.

Australia has a strong pedigree when it comes to battery-making, with home-grown systems working hard for many years in parts of the country where electricity supply can be expensive and somewhat unreliable.

As grid constraints persist and more solar is connected to the grid Brisbane-based battery-maker RedEarth Energy Storage has seen steady growth in enquires from customers for residential solutions all the way up to commercial containerised assets.

“The main issues we’re being asked to solve are improving reliability of supply through to back-up, reducing peak demand and reducing bills through solar plus storage as well as peak reduction,” says RedEarth general manager sales, marketing and external operations Scott Andrews.

“Battery energy storage systems can help solve many of the issues related to grid constraints and high PV penetration.”

Community-scale solutions

Working with its partners on larger projects allows the system designers at RedEarth to form opinions about how storage can best be deployed to solve problems at network level and encourage higher penetration of solar PV in suburbs and commercial and industrial zones, Andrews says. One area the manufacturer is looking at with interest is the evolution of community-scale battery solutions as an alternative to a scattering of residential and commercial systems.

“RedEarth firmly believes that community battery storage is the best way forward to enable a clean energy grid and allow for high adoption of PV,” Andrews says.

“A single community battery can provide a safe and reliable virtual battery to residential and commercial customers and provide grid support. This shared-use battery will avoid each customer segment overpaying by building in unnecessary redundancy and benefit all. But there needs to be a greater drive from government and utilities to allow these technologies to be used widely.”

RedEarth’s customer base ranges from utilities and mining sites to remote communities and “off-grid fishing shacks”, Andrews says. “We serve all customer types and segments.”

Recent projects include a containerised 45kW/108kWh split phase solution for SWER line support, turned around within four weeks, and a solar smoothing solution based on the company’s SunRise Design with enhanced energy management software for Palm Island. “This drastically reduced the price compared to existing solutions for microgrid customers,” Andrews says.

The company pushed beyond the usual limits of customer support following the summer bushfires when it donated one of its Black Max Pro systems to a client who’d lost his home in the Thowgla Valley, in the Upper Murray Region. Another system has recently been donated to the Conservation Council in the ACT.

“Local support and local service just add to the attractiveness of our products,” Andrews says.