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Hybrid theory, in practice: energy storage as key to Australia’s energy ‘revolution’

By Scott McGregor

Australia’s remarkable energy transition is marching on. Figures estimate that this year, Australia will deploy renewables at a rate almost five times faster than the USA, four times faster than China and well over twice the rate of the UK.

Against a background of persistent opposition to coal plant closures and sporadic anti-renewables lobbying in the run-up to the last election, Australia is nevertheless fast becoming a renewable energy powerhouse.

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However, it’s not unqualified successes across the board. Australia may be one of the leading major economies in terms of renewable deployments, but it’s woefully underprepared at a network level to actually make the transition, being ranked 28th out of the list of 32 advanced economies on the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Energy Transition Index.

As a result of it sheer size, Australia is unique in its need for a such a vast distributed network, and needs to implement systemic changes to their existing electricity grid in the form of energy storage infrastructure to manage their transition to low carbon. Importantly, storage must be deployed not only at network level (where we’ve seen initial progress in the form of projects such as the 129MWh lithium-ion Hornsdale battery project and Snowy Hydro facility) but also on a decentralised basis to manage local demand for commercial and industrial energy users.

Our project with Monash University: a microcosm of the future

Without the widespread deployment of heavy-cycling, energy storage infrastructure, this remarkable progress on renewables is in danger of grinding to a halt as the effects of price cannibalisation and network constraints combine to create higher risk for the renewable project developers and investors that have underpinned progress on the Aussie energy revolution until now.

Our 1MWh energy storage system situated on the Monash University campus in Melbourne is a useful case study in how energy storage infrastructure can be deployed effectively in Australia to help support the energy transition and the site itself is a microcosm of the different challenges faced at a national level.

The site, which covers around 1 square kilometre in total, receives a footfall of over 50,000 people per day and needs to balance the complex energy needs of a busy university campus with its award-winning initiative to reach net zero emissions from the site by 2030. Known as the Monash Smart Energy City, the project implements solar generation, electric vehicle charging stations and a host of smart building management controls onto a campus microgrid, which itself will connect onto the wider Melbourne grid system, and at it heart, is a 1MWh flow / lithium hybrid redT energy storage – which is currently the largest behind-the-meter commercial energy storage system in Australia.

It’s expected that 75% or more of Australian energy generation will come from distributed sources in the future and the hope is that the vast majority, if not all of this will be renewable generation. The challenge lies in how to integrate this onto the network efficiently for a low cost, secure and low carbon energy system.

The Monash microgrid will also be able to interface with the wider network and source low cost, low carbon generation from the grid when required. This helps to balance supply on the wider network and reduce volatility. Measures such as these allow more renewables to be installed, whilst maintaining an orderly and efficient distribution network. The Monash project is a prime example of how to integrate decentralised, low carbon microgrids onto the wider distribution network for the benefit of the system as a whole.

Sounds great right? But it won’t happen without network operators, generators and microgrids working cooperatively together. Whilst the challenges are not small by any means, the opportunity is immense, and I’m very excited for the future. 

Watch Scott McGregor talk about the project in the Editor's Vlog of 2018

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