The link below is to an article that reports on the creation of massive new national parks in Chile.
Last Friday, the “world’s largest” lithium-ion battery was officially opened in South Australia. Tesla’s much anticipated “mega-battery” made the “100 days or it’s free” deadline, after a week of testing and commissioning.
Unsurprisingly, the project has attracted a lot of attention, both in Australia and abroad. This is largely courtesy of the high profile Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, not to mention the series of Twitter exchanges that sparked off the project in the first place.
Many are now watching on in anticipation to see what impact the battery has on the SA electricity market, and whether it could be a game-changer nationally.
The Hornsdale Power Reserve
The “mega battery” complex is officially called the Hornsdale Power Reserve. It sits alongside the Hornsdale Wind Farm and has been constructed in partnership with the SA government and Neoen, the French renewable energy company that owns the wind farm.
The battery has a total generation capacity of 100 megawatts, and 129 megawatt-hours of energy storage. This has been decribed as “capable of powering 50,000 homes”, providing 1 hour and 18 minutes of storage or, more controversially, 2.5 minutes of storage.
At first blush, some of these numbers might sound reasonable. But they don’t actually reflect a major role the battery will play, nor the physical capability of the battery itself.
What can the battery do?
The battery complex can be thought of as two systems. First there is a component with 70MW of output capacity that has been contracted to the SA government. This is reported to provide grid stability and system security, and designed only to have about 10 minutes of storage.
The second part could be thought of as having 30MW of output capacity, but 3-4 hours of storage. Even though this component has a smaller capacity (MW), it has much more storage (MWh) and can provide energy for much longer. This component will participate in the competitive part of the market, and should firm up the wind power produced by the wind farm.
In addition, the incredible flexibility of the battery means that it is well suited to participate in the Frequency Control Ancillary Service market. More on that below.
The figure below illustrates just how flexible the battery actually is. In the space of four seconds, the battery is capable of going from zero to 30MW (and vice versa). In fact it is likely much faster than that (at the millisecond scale), but the data available is only at 4-second resolution.
Frequency Control and Ancillary Service Market
The Frequency Control and Ancillary Service (FCAS) market is less known and understood than the energy market. In fact it is wrong to talk of a single FCAS market – there are actually eight distinct markets.
The role of these markets is essentially twofold. First, they provide contingency reserves in case of a major disturbance, such as a large coal generation unit tripping off. The services provide a rapid response to a sudden fall (or rise) in grid frequency.
At the moment, these contingency services operate on three different timescales: 6 seconds, 60 seconds, and 5 minutes. Generators that offer these services must be able to raise (or reduce) their output to respond to an incident within these time frames.
The Hornsdale Power Reserve is more than capable of participating in these six markets (raising and lowering services for the three time intervals shown in the illustration above).
The final two markets are known as regulation services (again, as both a raise and lower). For this service, the Australian energy market operator (AEMO) issues dispatch instructions on a fine timescale (4 seconds) to “regulate” the frequency and keep supply and demand in balance.
The future: fast frequency response?
Large synchronous generators (such as coal plants) have traditionally provided frequency control, (through the FCAS markets), and another service, inertia – essentially for free. As these power plants leave the system, there maybe a need for another service to maintain power system security.
One such service is so-called “fast frequency response” (FFR). While not a a direct replacement, it can reduce the need for physical inertia. This is conceptually similar to the contingency services described above, but might occur at the timescale of tens to hundreds of milliseconds, rather than 6 seconds.
The Australian Energy Market Commission is currently going through the process of potentially introducing a fast frequency response market. In the meantime, obligations on transmission companies are expected to ensure a minimum amount of inertia or similar services (such as fast frequency response).
I suspect that the 70MW portion of the new Tesla battery is designed to provide exactly this fast frequency response.
Size matters but role matters more
The South Australian battery is truly a historic moment for both South Australia, and for Australia’s future energy security.
While the size, of the battery might be decried as being small in the context of the National Energy Market, it is important to remember its capabilities and role. It may well be a game changer, by delivering services not previously provided by wind and solar PV.
Global climate change, driven by human emissions of greenhouse gases, is already affecting the planet, with more heatwaves, droughts, wildfires and floods, and accelerating sea-level rise.
Devastating impacts on our environment, health, social justice, food production, coastal city infrastructure and economies cannot be avoided if we maintain a slow and steady transition to a zero-carbon society.
According to Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, we need an emergency response.
A big part of this response needs to be transforming the energy sector, the principal contributor to global warming in Australia and many other developed countries.
Many groups have put forward ideas to transition the energy sector away from carbon. But what are the key ingredients?
Technology is the easy bit
At first glance the solution appears straightforward. Most of the technologies and skills we need – renewable energy, energy efficiency, a new transmission line, railways, cycleways, urban design – are commercially available and affordable. In theory these could be scaled up rapidly.
But in practice there are several big, non-technical barriers. These include politics dominated by vested interests, culture, and institutions (organisational structures, laws, and regulations).
Vested interests include the fossil fuel industry, electricity sector, aluminium smelting, concrete, steel and motor vehicles. Governments that receive taxation revenue and political donations from vested interests are reluctant to act effectively.
To overcome this barrier, we need strong and growing pressure from the climate action movement.
There are numerous examples of nonviolent social change movements the climate movement can learn from. Examples include the Indian freedom struggle led by Gandhi; the African-American civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King Jr; the Philippine People Power Revolution; and the unsuccessful Burmese uprising of 1988-90.
Several authors, including Australian climate scientist Matthew England, point out that nations made rapid socio-economic changes during wartime and that such an approach could be relevant to rapid climate mitigation.
Learning from war
UNSW PhD candidate Laurence Delina has investigated the rapid, large, socio-economic changes made by several countries just before and during World War 2.
He found that we can learn from wartime experience in changing the labour force and finance.
However, he also pointed out the limitations of the wartime metaphor for rapid climate mitigation:
Governments may need extraordinary emergency powers to implement rapid mitigation, but these are unlikely to be invoked unless there is support from a large majority of the electorate.
While such support is almost guaranteed when a country is engaged in a defensive war, it seems unlikely for climate action in countries with powerful vested interests in greenhouse gas emissions.
Vested interests and genuinely concerned people will exert pressure on governments to direct their policies and resources predominantly towards adaptation measures such as sea walls, and dangerous quick fixes such as geoengineering. While adaptation must not be neglected, mitigation, especially by transforming the energy sector, should be primary.
Unfortunately it’s much easier to make war than to address the global climate crisis rapidly and effectively. Indeed many governments of “democratic” countries, including Australia, make war without parliamentary approval.
Follow the leaders!
According to Climate Action Tracker, the 158 climate pledges submitted to the United Nations by December 8 2015 would result in around 2.7℃ of warming in 2100 – and that’s provided that all governments meet their pledge.
Nevertheless, inspiring case studies from individual countries, states and cities could lead the way to a better global outcome.
Iceland, with its huge hydroelectric and geothermal resources, already has 100% renewable electricity and 87% renewable heat.
Denmark, with no hydro, is on track to achieve its target of 100% renewable electricity and heat by 2035.
Germany, with modest hydro, is heading for at least 80% renewable electricity by 2050, but is behind with its renewable heat and transport programs.
It’s easier for small regions to reach 100% renewable electricity, provided that they trade electricity with their neighbours. The north German states of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Schleswig-Holstein are generating more than 100% net of their electricity from renewables.
If the climate action movement can build its strength and influence, it may be possible for the state of Tasmania to achieve 100% renewable energy (electricity, heat and transport) and for South Australia to reach 100% renewable electricity, both within a decade.
But the eastern mainland states, which depend heavily on coal for electricity, will need to build new renewable energy manufacturing industries and to train a labour force that includes many more highly trained engineers, electricians, systems designers, IT specialists and plumbers, among others.
Changes will be needed to the National Electricity Market rules, or at least to rewrite the National Electricity Objective to highlight renewable energy, a slow task that must obtain the agreement of federal, state and territory governments.
Australia has the advantage of huge renewable energy resources, sufficient to create a substantial export industry, but the disadvantage of a declining manufacturing sector.
There are already substantial job opportunities in renewable energy, both globally and in Australia. These can be further expanded by manufacturing components of the technologies, especially those that are expensive to ship between continents, such as large wind turbine blades, bulk insulation and big mirrors.
Transport will take longer to transform than electricity generation and heat. Electric vehicle manufacturing is in the early stage of expansion and rail transport infrastructure cannot be built overnight, especially in car-dependent cities.
For air transport and long-distance road transport, the only short-term solution is biofuels, which have environmental and resource constraints.
How long would it take?
The timescale for the transition to 100% renewable energy – electricity, heat and transport – depends on each country or region and the commitment of its governments.
Scenario studies (see also here), while valuable for exploring technological strategies for change, are not predictions. Their results depend upon assumptions about the non-technical strategies I have discussed. They cannot predict the timing of changes.
Governments need to agree on a strategy for transitioning that focuses not just on the energy sector, but includes industry, technology, labour, financial institutions, governance and the community.
Everyone should be included in developing this process, apart from dyed-in-the-wool vested interests. This process could draw upon the strengths of the former Ecologically Sustainable Development process while avoiding its shortcomings.
The task is by no means easy. What we need is a strategic plan and to implement it rapidly.
The link below is to an article reporting on a massive iceberg that has broken away from Antarctica.
The link below is to an article reporting on a plan by Palau to ban commercial fishing and to create a massive marine sanctuary.
The link below is to an article reporting on the massive increase in Rhino poaching.
The link below is to an article reporting on the possible release of massive volumes of methane when the permafrost of the Arctic melts due to climate change and global warming.