Battery Storage in SA is Not That Simple

Recent involuntary load shedding across South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales has led to a discussion on the current operation of the National Electricity Market.

On 9 March 2017 Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes tweeted that Tesla’s battery division could solve South Australia’s power problems in 100 days. This would occur by building ten 100 megawatt hour battery farms which Tesla confirmed that they would be able to provide in the requested 100 days. Since then, other battery providers have offered to provide quotes for a similar product. Since the tweets started, Mike Cannon-Brookes has received several offers to help with funding and on Friday 10 March asked Tesla for seven days to sort out politics and funding.

Battery storage has come a long way over the last four years and is widely considered a potential solution to integrating renewable generation into the grid. The capacity of the proposed solution would be more than sufficient to meet the supply shortages seen to date in South Australia. During the last brown out in, 100 MW for one hour would have prevented involuntary load shedding.

The problem in the short term is how to integrate the batteries into the market. Batteries work on direct current while most of the market works on alternative current. This means that the batteries would need to include an inverter. It is not certain that the current prices quoted would include this. The quote also doesn’t include local costs such as connection to the grid and installation. There are other potential issues with integration of batteries in the market. It is uncertain how a utility scale battery would register and comply with strict frequency standards.

The proposal has sparked renewed debate on the role that technology can play in solving the issues we are facing in the current energy market.