AES 2018 conference

The work being done in energy storage

Posted on October 29th, 2018 in Media Releases

At the 2018 Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition, we were delighted to welcome Sanjeev Gupta, chairman of UK-based GFG Alliance, to be with us.

Gupta’s talk was informative on many levels, such as how renewables can lower energy costs and what Australia can learn from the UK, but one particular point of interest was his insight into the work being done in energy storage in Australia at the moment.

His main talking points were battery storage and pumped hydro.

Battery storage

Battery storage has been a major talking point of renewables for a long time, and their continued improvement promises big things for the industry. South Australia is a world leader in this regard, with the world’s largest lithium-ion battery in production the Upper Spencer Gulf.

The capability of batteries, both large scale and for residential use, is improving dramatically, as is the uptake. One of the obvious needs for battery use is to act as a backup. In the case of solar power, batteries store power when it’s sunny and then release at night or when the clouds come out.

The other requirement is speed. In residential terms, this helps cover a sudden drop in power production and, hopefully, the battery kicks in automatically. In commercial terms, this is vital. It may only be required in short bursts – perhaps when switching from solar to hydro or wind power at night – but it’s important that it does this, and does this quickly, to avoid energy disruptions.

Gupta said, “Batteries so far are a solution only for very small periods of time and rather than being a proper store of energy, they actually play a role of being a quick solution. A solution if there’s bit of cloud cover over your solar panels or the wind suddenly drops or you need to switch energy source, those minutes or seconds which are required to do that.”

“The batteries offer you a very, very quick ability to turn on or off, so their job is basically to do that bridge.”

Pumped hydro

While batteries offer a quick but relatively short backup option, pumped hydro offers a longer solution.

Gupta’s company uses abandoned mines to store huge quantities of water, using them as underground reservoirs, and sending that water through turbines when the demand hits.

With this huge capacity for stored energy, it potentially offers round-the-clock service for renewables.

Gupta said, “The good thing about pumped hydro is that it lasts for a long period of time. The combination of solar, batteries and hydro, and maybe some wind, gives the ability for us to provide a baseload power solution to our own needs, whether it’s in steel, aluminium or other parts of the chain.”


Battery prices

While batteries play a small, but essential, part in today’s energy makeup, Gupta predicts that this will soon change. Just as solar panels have dropped in price dramatically over the past few years, he expects the same to happen for batteries which will see their use become more widespread, and perhaps create a system based heavily around panels and batteries.

He said, “Energy storage is the key, it will be the ultimate liberator. At the moment, batteries are still not competitive to be a real partner for things like solar, but batteries will get cheaper and cheaper.”

“As they drop in value rapidly, the consumption will become more relevant. Today, their consumption is only relevant to balance things or to provide a bridge, but eventually maybe they will be able to just be a battery and a solar panel will be a full holistic solution to energy. When that happens, that will be a revolution in terms of how we think about how we consume electricity globally.”