Australia’s First Solar Peaker

Despite its heavy reliance and enthusiasm for coal, Australia has made significant progress in developing battery-based energy support systems.

Australia’s energy policy appears to be filled with contradictions. Burning coal provides 60% of the nation’s electricity and Australia’s government has rejected the UN Climate Panel’s call to phase out coal by 2050. China, India, and Japan are major export markets for Australian coal, which is poised to surpass iron in 2019 as the country’s largest export. The country’s politicians are ardently pro-coal and appear to be comfortable with an energy mix that remains coal rich, despite the devastating effects that climate change is predicted to have on one of the country’s national treasures—the Great Barrier Reef. Australia’s government officials, however, continue to maintain that they will be able to meet the carbon dioxide reductions necessary to limit global temperature rise.

Cape York Solar Battery

The Cape York Battery Power Plant is one of the first dispatchable solar peaker plants in the world, combining solar electricity generation with battery storage to provide energy during peak power grid loading. (Image source: Lyon Group)

Big Battery Projects

Despite its zeal for fossil fuels, Australia has also undertaken some of the world’s largest battery energy storage projects. The installation of a Tesla 129 megawatt (MW) Powerpack battery at the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia has improved power grid reliability and has already saved the grid operator and local power customers a third of its purchase price in its first year in operation. At the same time, the South Australia government is rolling out a “virtual power plant”—a network of up to 50,000 home solar photovoltaic panels and battery systems that will work together to potentially produce 250 MW of electrical power, reducing the necessity to build a new coal-fired power plant.

The latest project, located in Queensland and scheduled to begin operation in early 2019, is the Cape York Battery Power Plant. “The Cape York Battery Power Plant will be the first fully integrated, grid-connected large dispatchable solar peaker in Australia if not the world,” said Lyon Group chair David Green in a company news release. Lyon Group is the world’s leading independent developer of integrated utility-scale battery storage and renewable generation projects. It developed and sold Australia’s first grid-connected, large-scale solar PV and battery storage project.

"Dispatchable" is a term that refers to generation that can be used on demand, dispatched upon request by power grid operators. Dispatchable power can be turned on or off to meet market needs. A “peaker” is a power plant that usually runs only when there is high or “peak” demand for electricity. Typically, peakers, such as gas turbines for example, can ramp up quickly to provide an extra boost of electric energy when it is needed. Peakers tend to create electricity at a premium price.

Building a Solar Peaker

The Cape York Battery Power Plant is adjacent to the Lakeland Solar and Storage project, which was constructed by Lyon as a 13 MW solar energy production and 1.4 MW battery storage pilot project. This was Australia’s first grid-connected project that combined large scale solar and battery storage.

The Cape York Battery Power Plant is a $150 million commitment to new peaking generation and a stronger grid in north Queensland. “The 20 MW/80 MWh Fluence battery-based energy storage system plus 55 MW solar generation will dispatch firm, clean energy through a single connection point, using a single power plant controller,” according to Green. “Only a truly integrated large battery storage and solar plant can deliver dispatchable solar energy, avoiding grid destabilizing voltage and frequency fluctuations, and transitory impacts, by stabilizing the power output. This can only occur when a single power plant controller manages the project and power is dispatched through a single connection point,” he added.

Cape York Battery Power Plant will include Australia’s first four-hour duration battery system, making it the country’s first solar peaker. “Solar peakers will quickly take the place of gas peakers because their speed of dispatch, lower and more predictable operating costs and, by extension, lower risk offers unparalleled flexibility,” said Green. “Solar peakers and other four-hour duration battery storage will service a big proportion of Australia’s daily peak demand period.”

Worldwide Partners

The large lithium ion battery used in the Cape York project has been developed by Fluence, a global energy storage technology solutions and services company. Fluence was launched in January 2018 by German industrial giant Siemens and leading US power company AES. According to the Lyon news release, “The global fleet of battery storage systems deployed by Fluence has provided more than 6,000 GWh of delivered service to date. Fluence’s team deployed 13 projects in 2018, and are in the process of delivering another 28 projects totaling over 400 MW, including Fluence’s first Australian projects in Ballarat and Port Augusta.”

The development of the dispatchable solar peaker at the Cape York Battery Power Plant is an important step in Australia’s eventual move away from its coal-based energy grid. “Energy decarburization is a given. Some people just take longer than others to face reality. Most future power will come from solar and wind, so the focus should be on ensuring grid stability and creating the right revenue framework so that the market delivers least cost solutions,” said Green.

Senior Editor Kevin Clemens has been writing about energy, automotive, and transportation topics for more than 30 years. He has masters degrees in Materials Engineering and Environmental Education and a doctorate degree in Mechanical Engineering, specializing in aerodynamics. He has set several world land speed records on electric motorcycles that he built in his workshop.

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