Australian projects trial benefits of distributed neighbourhood and flow battery energy storage

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The government of Victoria, Australia, has opened a round of funding for ‘neighbourhood-scale’ battery storage, while in Western Australia a vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) will be deployed at a mining site.

Both are projects aimed at demonstrating the capabilities of distributed energy storage.

Multiple value streams

Neighbourhood batteries are essentially sized to benefit whole communities and enable them to benefit from rooftop solar in their area without having to invest in a battery system or each household.

Meanwhile they are smaller than utility-scale batteries, making them easier to site, as well as potentially quicker to construct and cheaper.

Through its Neighbourhood Battery Initiative grant programme, the Victorian state government is offering funding from a pool of A$10.92 million (US$7.59 million) for projects that can demonstrate the multi-use case applications of such systems.

In an article published earlier this year for our quarterly journal PV Tech Power, a team of experts from Australian National University’s Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program wrote that the systems are generally between 0.1MW to 5MW, ranging in size from a “wardrobe to a shipping container”.

“What makes neighbourhood batteries a particularly interesting form of energy storage is that they have the potential to address energy equity and provide benefits to all energy users,” the authors wrote.  

“Some groups of people, particularly renters and those who do not have solar panels on their rooftops, but also people who might be socially and digitally isolated could all benefit from neighbourhood batteries.”

Through a series of socio-techno-economic studies, the ANU researchers found many benefits of the neighbourhood battery model: which they defined as distinct from the term ‘community’ batteries, as the latter implies community or shared ownership, which may not necessarily be the case.

However, the ANU team did find that at the time of reporting its findings that neighbourhood batteries would only be economical if local use of system (LOUS) network tariffs could be offered at a discounted rate.

Another proposed business model to recover costs would be to create a secondary peer-to-peer energy trading market using the batteries, but it was found that this pathway would be beset with regulatory complexities and challenges.

The Victorian government programme’s approach is to help fund projects that will be able to access multiple different revenue streams, including participation in frequency control ancillary services (FCAS) in the National Electricity Market.

A first round of grants worth A$3.68 million was awarded in 2021 to 16 different organisations including communities, local councils and industrial entities.

Round 2 was opened 6 June for applications and stays open for applications until 29 July 2022. Up to A$2.32 million is being made available.

Bidding entities will be responsible for installation and commissioning of projects as well as proving their ability to tap different value streams.

Various other initiatives of this kind have been installed across Australia, again, often dubbed ‘community’ batteries.

One such project was the five-year Alkimos Beach Energy Storage Trial (ABEST) in Western Australia, where an up to 85% reduction in use of energy from the grid at peak times was achieved. Around 100 rooftop solar PV systems were installed at properties in the area and paired with a 1.1MWh lithium-ion battery energy storage system (BESS).

However, the ABEST project partners, including state-owned generator-retail utility company Synergy found that without subsidies, the model would not be a sustainable product for Synergy to market.

As Energy-Storage.news reported at the time the trial concluded in September 2021 however, ABEST didn’t trial the multi-use applications of battery storage.

Meanwhile the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has since made it easier and more lucrative for batteries to participate in the NEM – albeit AEMO was forced to temporarily suspend all wholesale market activity in the NEM last week (16 June) due to ongoing energy challenges the country is facing, such as the outage of about 3GW of coal generators due to “unplanned events”.

Flow battery to power mining pump with 100% renewable energy

Staying in Western Australia (WA), a project part-funded with an Australian Government Modern Manufacturing Initiative Grant will see a 300kWh VRFB installed at a mining site.

Australian Vanadium, a company aiming to develop primary vanadium resources as well as processing and electrolyte production capacity in the country, has a subsidiary which markets and promotes VRFB technology.

The subsidiary VSUN Energy is designing and constructing a standalone power system based on the tech for Nova Nickel Operation, a site owned by mining company IGO Limited.

Australian Vanadium provided an update yesterday to the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) that said the VRFB system VSUN Energy has ordered from manufacturer E22 in Spain has been assembled and is being prepared for shipment to Fremantle Port in WA.

VSUN Energy and E22 – an energy storage subsidiary of Spain’s Gransolar – signed a partnership agreement in 2021 through which E22 gets access to the Australian market for its VRFBs, while it could in turn source vanadium pentoxide as well as processed electrolyte, on a purchase or lease basis, from Australian Vanadium’s facilities.  

From there it will be tested at a site in Perth and during the testing period Australian Vanadium and VSUN will showcase the system and its capabilities to mining companies, utilities and others that the company said have shown interest in the VRFB.

As reported by Energy-Storage.news last November when the project was first announced, the VRFB will be installed for use by IGO Limited at the nickel, cobalt and copper mine for free for the first year of operation. After that, the mining company will have the option to purchase or rent the system from VSUN Energy.

IGO will use the standalone power system (SPS) to power a continually operating mining process water bore pump. Running the pump on 100% renewable energy, it is hoped that in addition to reducing the site’s carbon footprint, the expected reduction in both fuel and maintenance costs will result in operational cost savings.

Australian Vanadium noted that the project will be part-funded from the A$3.69 million grant it received from the government alongside companies involved in lithium, rare earth metals and other high-tech manufacturing-related sectors.

The company is using the remainder of the grant money towards a high purity vanadium processing circuit for its mining site, as well as for the development of a residential VRFB prototype and its electrolyte manufacturing plant, for which it is targeting an initial annual production capacity of 33MWh.

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