Bruce Godfrey discusses the future of renewable energy storage in Australia and how we can take advantage of our natural resources.
Energy storage can upend both physical and economic industry structures that have defined power markets for the last century.
In a decentralised yet integrated 21st century energy future, electricity networks must enable new opportunities for managing the multiple, complex pathways navigated by flows of electricity and payments.
A recent Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) report clearly showed that energy storage is critical to successfully transforming our electricity systems. Storage links electricity production and consumption, enabling more grid-scale (or utility-scale) renewable generation and distributed energy generation into the market.
Energy storage is an emerging industry globally. But its application in high volumes for both the electricity and transport sectors is still immature.
Storage comes in many forms and can be applied in many scenarios:
There are also numerous other applications with niche requirements, such as mining or off-grid applications.
What can we expect?
Over the coming decade, there is unlikely to be only one favoured form of storage. Based on expected-cost curves, the most likely forms of energy storage will include pumped hydro, batteries and molten salt (coupled with concentrated solar thermal power generation).
These different technologies have varying costs and performance characteristics. And determining which is the ”best” form of energy storage depends on where it is needed, for what purpose – in electricity reliability or security, or both, for instance – the nature of the local electricity grid, and the current and future types of electricity generation.
Energy security is about ensuring the ability to rapidly cope, within seconds or less, with fluctuations in energy demand and supply that would move system frequency (50 cycles per second in Australia) outside of allowable limits. Energy storage that can provide electricity into a grid at a moment’s notice is an alternative to spinning turbines to provide maintenance of system frequency.
Energy reliability refers to the ability to balance electricity supply and demand over longer periods. An adequate electricity supply is needed at all times but particularly to meet peak demand at days-end, which may not coincide with peak variable renewable supply (middle of the day for solar and often night-time for wind).
The ACOLA report identifies significant energy storage technology opportunities for Australia across global supply chains.
Australia has world-class resources of raw materials used in battery manufacturing, most notably lithium. Our raw materials, together with our world-class expertise – not only in energy storage, but also in off-grid energy supply and micro-grids – demonstrate that Australia has the potential to become a world leader.
Chemical storage – storing energy in a chemical form, such as fuel – is also identified as a potential export opportunity as countries such as Japan and Korea embrace hydrogen energy.
The typical process for producing hydrogen releases carbon dioxide. Water electrolysis, instead, avoids greenhouse gas emissions by using renewable electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, effectively storing the renewable electricity in hydrogen.
Thanks to Australia’s abundance of sun, this can enable growth of a new industry, particularly in northern Australia.
Recycling is also identified as an opportunity for Australia. We have a history of recycling more than 90 per cent of lead-acid batteries. Opportunities to develop technologies to recycle components of lithium batteries (including cobalt, nickel and lithium) could be further supported.
Importantly, Australia can encourage product stewardship across the whole life cycle, including responsible sourcing of materials, development of mining standards and sustainability codes, and disposal.
There is a legitimate role for governments to ensure the right policies are enacted to drive growth in energy storage.
Policy leadership will result in innovation, investment, the establishment of new high-technology industries, the growth of existing high-technology industries and increased or new energy exports.
A proactive approach will provide the opportunity for Australia to lead and facilitate re-skilling of workforces and the creation of jobs across all levels of the value chain, from mining and manufacturing through to consumer spending.
Australians’ knowledge of, and attitudes towards, energy storage will shape acceptance and adoption. General knowledge of energy storage options is limited and largely restricted to batteries (the “Tesla effect”). This is one of the factors limiting uptake of storage, especially at the domestic scale.
Nonetheless, there is a demand for domestic-scale energy storage by households across Australia to future-proof against soaring electricity prices and to take more control of their energy supply.
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