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Storage and broader market change ‘terrifying some players and thrilling others’ – ARENA chief

New chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) Martijn Wilder shared his thoughts on the state of play for energy storage. Credit: ARENA
The rapid march of energy storage batteries into the energy system is one element of a wider market transformation that is “terrifying some players as much as it is thrilling others”, according to the new chair of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) Martijn Wilder.

Speaking at the first day of the Australian Storage Conference, Wilder, who replaced Greg Bourne as ARENA Chair six weeks ago, said that new technology and changing policy is forcing the energy sector to evolve faster than ever before and new actors are entering the market and disrupting the incumbents.

He quoted AGL chief executive Andy Vessy: “The traditional industry value chain is gone forever and in order to survive and stay relevant, companies must reinvent themselves by delivering value to customers.”

Wilder said that many see Australia as a key pioneering market for the commercialisation of energy storage technologies and business models. Such technologies can also create large-scale export opportunities. Furthermore, given that Australia has the highest penetration of rooftop solar in the world, combined with a relatively deregulated electricity system, the potential for behind-the-meter storage is huge.

However, despite excitement around the Tesla Powerwall home storage systems for example, Wilder added: “The economics of residential batteries don’t quite stack up yet for the vast majority of households at current battery system prices.

“The good news is the prices of battery systems is generally expected to halve over the next five years.”

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The Agency has already funded a number of successful storage projects, including the Alkimos Beach residential battery storage project in Western Australia (WA) and the solar-plus-storage project at Degrussa Copper Mine also in WA.

Wilder said: “The inclusion of battery storage is a vital piece of the puzzle, guaranteeing security of supply to the mine when it gets cloudy. As far as we know, it’s the first time in the world that a mine has integrated solar, storage and diesel generation to power its operations.”

Elsewhere, just a fortnight ago, the ACT Government announced the second round of its programme to increase home battery take-up in Canberra and its surrounds. This will see AU$2 million (US$1.45 million) made available for the installation of batteries in around 600 homes.

Meanwhile, in South Australia, Canberra-based tech firm Reposit is working with Tesla, Samsung and South Australia Power Networks to roll-out 100 batteries to address identified local grid constraints.

Finally, Wilder confirmed that ARENA does have legislated unallocated funding of approximately AU$1.3 billion following controversial direction from prime minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government.

He added: “As we head toward the polls, the Government, the Opposition and the Greens all hold different positions on the future of these legislated funds.”

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