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Friday Briefing: Thermal plants offer brownfield opportunities but require ‘a lot of coordination’  


This Friday Briefing looks at the rich prospects for putting batteries onto brownfield power plant sites, with regard to news stories from South Africa and New England, US.

Brownfield development of battery energy storage system (BESS) projects at existing thermal power plant sites is nothing new, but it seems poised to take a much more prominent role in the industry.

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Put in extremely simple terms, brownfield developments are sited on land that has already been in use for industrial purposes, while greenfield projects put assets on undeveloped land.

Thermal power plant sites are considered a suitable fit for renewable energy, hybrid renewables-plus-storage and standalone BESS projects, due to their existing land and grid connection, as well as often giving access to a skilled local workforce.

They also offer owners of legacy fossil fuel assets a means to repurpose their assets to host clean energy technologies that can continue to drive revenue as well as enable them to lower their carbon footprint.

Standalone battery storage is often the easiest technology to deploy at such sites due to its relatively lower demand for physical space compared to, for example, ground-mount solar PV.

Landmark projects over the past few years, such as Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility and Alamitos in California, have been placed at former gas power plant sites. In Australia, the country’s many coal power plants, scheduled for decommissioning in the coming years or already decommissioned, offer similar opportunities.

Last week, reported as Engie said it will deploy a 116MW/660MWh BESS at the site of a former coal plant in Chile.

In March, construction began on Australia’s biggest battery storage project to date, a 500MW/2,000MWh plant in Western Australia (WA) at the site of Collie, a coal power plant marked for decommissioning in 2027. Also last month, system integrator Fluence was awarded a 300MWh BESS supply contract for the UK’s SSE Renewables at a decommissioned coal plant site.

Sites offer land and valuable grid infrastructure

This week, South Africa’s electricity minister Dr Kgosientsho Ramokgopa attended the inauguration of the largest solar-plus-storage project in the Southern Hemisphere, in the Northern Cape town of Kenhardt.

While that project, comprising three sites with 540MW solar PV generation capacity and 225MW/1,140MWh of battery storage is itself a greenfield site, thermal power plant sites owned by national utility Eskom could host brownfield developments.  

One of South Africa’s main challenges in deploying new renewable energy resources is the country’s shakey grid infrastructure and the minister said Eskom will play a major part in a forthcoming announcement around how to improve grid access for renewables.

“…Eskom is going to be a major player, because at the [thermal power] stations that are going to be decommissioned in the future, you have grid capacity, you have the land, you have the infrastructure,” Ramokgopa said.

“So it’s important that you are able to transition using those assets, to make sure that you minimise the cost of production, what I call capital efficiency allocation. It’s important and if you go to, if you like, brownfields development, there’s going to be greater levels of capital efficiency allocation.”

Meanwhile in the US, a consortium made up of the six states that comprise New England has just announced that it is applying to the federal government for funding for two transmission corridor projects that will unlock opportunities for offshore wind and energy storage.

One interesting aspect of that twin application is that the New England states noted that one of those two projects, Power Up New England, is supported by developers including Elevate Renewables.

Elevate is a BESS developer which was formed by power generation company ArcLight, which among other things owns a large fleet of thermal power plants throughout the US.

Its remit is to develop battery storage assets at those thermal power plants, which could potentially include co-locating batteries with existing generation, or replacing the legacy plants altogether.

It said earlier this month that in Connecticut, New England, it is advancing BESS developments at six ‘baseload’ thermal generation sites, as well as at a “number of” peaker plants in the state. This is in addition to projects it is “actively pursuing” in California ISO (CAISO), PJM, ERCOT, Southwest Power Pool (SPP), and MISO, and it anticipates being able to participate in “all major markets.”

 “We are committed to redeveloping brownfield sites and optimising the utilisation of current energy infrastructure at strategic locations,” Elevate founder and head of development Eric Cherniss told ESN Premium.

“Our BESS facilitate the seamless integration of substantial offshore wind and other intermittent resources, deliver essential grid-supporting services, innovate grid management practices, and strengthen resiliency within the ISO New England region and across the country.”

Unprecedented systemic change

In both the South African and New England examples this week, keeping up with electricity demand growth and furthering the transition to renewable energy will likely need to lean on the sector’s investments of the past as well as the future.

They will also both leverage public-private partnerships, from the New England consortium’s request for state funding through the US Department of Energy (DOE) Grid Innovation Program, to South Africa’s forthcoming announcements on transmission buildout.

Eskom’s power stations are in potentially ideal brownfield locations for enabling the “capital efficiency allocation” that minister Ramogkpa referred to, “but Eskom’s balance sheet is constrained,” he told SABC on Thursday.

 “So you need to work out your model for partnering with the private sector and getting skin in the game. What Eskom brings is its level of equity, the grid, the land… the infrastructure that already exists,” Ramogkpa said.

South Africa wants to “tap into the liquidity of the private sector,” but those assets will eventually revert to Eskom over time, he said, with the state continuing to be a “major player on the generation side,” not to be displaced permanently.

Coming from the regulatory angle, Elevate Renewables’ Eric Cherniss said too that for New England and the wider US picture, participation models need to be worked out and that “it takes a lot of coordination.”

“As a nation, we haven’t gone through a systematic change like this in our history,” Cherniss told

“When the industry made significant changes – decades ago – that was under a different regulatory environment, where transmission owners and generation owners were (often) under the same parent company.” Cherniss said.

Happy Friday!

This week on ESN Premium

Australia’s ‘Year of the Big Battery’ could be followed by a ‘Decade of the Smaller Battery’ Premium speaks with Warwick Johnston, founder of solar energy consultants Sunwiz, on Australia’s distributed battery storage market dynamics.

Australia’s utility-scale battery storage market is on an upward trajectory, with around six times more capacity in megawatt-hours under construction at the end of last year compared to the end of 2022.

But we shouldn’t forget that the renewables market in the country is largely driven by what happens in behind-the-meter (BTM) settings, the rooftops of houses where the adoption of solar PV is higher than almost anywhere else in the world.

Mitsubishi Power’s BESS spinout and ownership restructure to make unit more ‘nimble and fast-moving’

The spinout and change in ownership of Mitsubishi Power Americas’ energy storage activities into standalone unit Prevalon will make it as “nimble and fast-moving as possible,” its CEO said, while not “chasing market share for the sake of market share”.

Prevalon CEO Thomas Cornell speaks to, following the spinout earlier this year and a change in ownership structure which means Prevalon is now jointly owned by Mitsubishi Power Americas and ‘EES’, an entity representing Prevalon senior management and ‘some outside investment’.

Safety practices of the BESS industry, Part 2: Battery analytics

ESN Premium’s look at safety practices in the battery storage space continues with an example of how battery analytics helped a developer respond to community concerns.

Safety continues to be a number one priority for the battery storage industry but considering media reports around community opposition to new-build projects, that message is perhaps not filtering down to the public.

As we have seen in numerous territories in the US and UK in particular, battery energy storage system (BESS) is sometimes perceived by local communities as a potential fire and even explosion hazard.

In this series, we will look at some of the things that companies in the industries are doing to mitigate fire and explosion risk.

Tax credit transfer deals ‘not simple’ and carry different benefits, risk and downsides – ITC seller

The CFO of Goldman Sachs-backed US battery storage developer-operator GridStor discussed its recent investment tax credit (ITC) transfer deal for a California BESS project, highlighting some downsides as well as positives from the new mechanism.

The company sold the ITC for the 60MW/160MWh Goleta BESS project in California to JP Morgan this year after the project came online in late 2023. GridStor CFO Frank Burkhartsmeyer said the company “really liked the option” and that he was pleased with the execution, but that it did have some downsides.

Transferability for clean energy tax credits was brought in under the Inflation Reduction Act to simplify the form of investment and open it up beyond the handful of large banks that have previously dominated the tax credit investment space. Buyers can directly buy the credits associated with a project, avoiding the need to form complicated structures to avail of those credits via tax equity investment.

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