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Elon Musk wants Australia to shake up its power grid

The Sidney Morning Herald |

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Elon Musk wants Australia to change its power grid to get ready for more big batteries. Having deployed the world’s largest battery in South Australia and shot a Tesla Roadster into space, the US billionaire’s company now wants to change the face of Australia’s National Electricity Market.

Tesla has called for the nation’s outdated electricity network to evolve and prepare for a transition to a new power system as part of the Australian Energy Market Commission’s review into the grid’s reliability.

In its submission, the electric car and solar battery maker outlined how when coal-fired power stations have failed – for example during Loy Yang power station generator’s recent outages –  batteries were able to put power back into the grid and return it to normal operation in less than 200 milliseconds.

By comparison, the fastest non-battery technology – such as gas-fired power stations and other technology known as Frequency Control Ancillary Services (FCAS) – needs six seconds to get energy flowing, Tesla said.

FCAS is used to ensure that supply and demand levels remain balanced; if there is not enough supply for demand a blackout occurs, but if there is too much supply then the system will shut down to protect the equipment, causing a blackout.

“As greater penetrations of utility scale energy storage and aggregated distributed energy resources are rolled out, the benefits [of batteries] to the broader markets should become clear,” Tesla said.

The company wants Australia’s energy market to incentivise the use of large-scale batteries, and ensure they can join the wholesale market in the same way that gas-fired plants and other FCAS systems currently can.

Backing batteries

Australia’s big three electricity generators and retailers are also getting on the battery bandwagon. EnergyAustralia chief executive Cath Tanna told Fairfax Media large-scale batteries would play a major role in its future.

“We need to learn how to integrate batteries at scale; this is another piece of the puzzle, learning how to integrate this into the new energy system – learning by doing,” Ms Tanna said.

“You’ll see us actively participate in that and you’ll see some positive news on it soon.”

Rival energy giant Origin currently buys power from Lakeland, a project in Far North Queensland, which features a 5.3 megawatt hour battery. It is also part of a knowledge-sharing partnership with BHP and Conergy to help take major energy consumers off the grid; and is in advanced stages of setting up battery storage trials at its power stations.

AGL has also planned to install large-scale batteries at the Liddell power station once it ceases coal-fired generation at the site.

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