Siemens joint venture looks to top Tesla's battery for Australian power grid

14 Jul 2020 3:20 PM
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3 years after Elon Musk used a challenge to solve Australian power outages because they build the world’s biggest battery, a Siemens venture really wants to install even larger kinds to bolster renewable investment in the country.

Fluence, a partnership between Germany’s Siemens and Arlington, Virginia-based AES Corporation, is proposing to build two giant lithium-ion batteries at strategic points on the transmission grid to permit better access for clusters of wind and solar plants. It says it could have the units ready to go within 18 months, more speedily than building out transmission infrastructure to support more renewables.

Australia is seen as a perfect testing ground for innovation in clean energy, as a developed market with plenty of space to reap the benefits of its abundant sunshine and wind. There’s also a dependence on new capacity with the expected retirement of several aging coal-fired plants over another decade. However, regional grid bottlenecks and a lack of clear central policy saw investment in the sector stop by 38 per cent this past year, according to BloombergNEF, following strong growth in the prior two years.

To solve the problem of bottlenecks, Fluence is touting “virtual transmission lines” that could integrate battery storage systems along the network, injecting or absorbing electricity as needed and regulating frequency and voltage. In a submission to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), Fluence proposed installing two 250 megawatt facilities, which would eclipse the 150 megawatt battery at Hornsdale in South Australia, installed by Mr Musk’s Tesla in 2017 and currently billed as the world’s largest.

“Think about it as having the capacity to widen a highway instantaneously to support surges in traffic,” Jaad Clifford-Bolt, senior business development manager at Fluence, said in an email. “That surge could possibly be solar or wind output on either side of the interconnector that should be exported, or a sudden spike popular on either side.”

Batteries also avoid the necessity to build the infrastructure required in “traditional poles and wires solutions,” he said.

“This lets you place them where they provides the best value and relief for the network, whether that is at a solar farm, a substation or completely alone at an advantageous connection point,” Mr Clifford-Bolt said.

The sticking point for batteries as yet has typically been the high cost, but that has been cut in half since 2018, according to BloombergNEF. Fluence, which already operates a 30 megawatt battery storage system at Ballarat in Victoria state, declined to touch upon the price tag on its project.

Solar and wind facilities in Australia have tended to concentrate on areas with access to cheap land and a good weather profile, but these clusters are often in remote regions with limited grid access. Last year, AEMO was forced to curtail around 50 % of the output of several facilities because of concerns they could compromise system stability.

AEMO’s long-term intend to transition toward a decarbonised grid backs investment in new or upgraded transmission links, but the operator has also put a call out for “non-network options” to aid the process.

Fluence is not the only company looking to scale up battery technology. France’s Neoen, which owns the Hornsdale facility, has submitted a proposal to set up a 600-megawatt unit near Geelong in Victoria.