Via Financial Times

The world’s biggest lithium-ion battery is about to get even bigger after its Australian operators decided to expand in a bid to stablise the nation’s fragile electricity grid. 

French renewables company Neoen said on Tuesday that it had contracted Tesla to expand capacity at its Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia by 50 per cent to 150 megawatts.

The Australian government has pledged up to A$72m in grants and loans to support the expansion, which comes as rival projects in the US and elsewhere threaten to steal the crown as the world’s largest lithium-ion storage facility. 

The South Australian battery, which was built in 2017 in just 100 days following an audacious bet by Tesla’s founder Elon Musk that he could fix the state’s energy crisis, is connected to a wind farm and has the capacity to supply about 30,000 homes for one hour. 

Neoen said the battery saved consumers A$50m in its first year of operation and that those savings would grow when the expansion is completed in 2020.

It said the facility would become the first large-scale battery in Australia to provide inertia and fast frequency services — important elements needed to maintain grid stability — to the national electricity network.

“The expansion of Hornsdale Power Reserve is demonstrating the critical and multiple roles that batteries will play in the grid of the future,” said Louis de Sambucy, managing director of Neoen Australia. 

Australia is undergoing a boom in renewable energy, which accounts for more than a fifth of electricity generation. Over the past two years the country has deployed wind and solar generation up to five times faster than the US, China or the EU on a per capita basis, according to a report by Australian National University. 

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But the rapid expansion has come at a price. Australia’s Energy Market Operator warned last year that the surge of renewable energy projects could destabilise the grid — an issue that took centre stage after a statewide blackout in South Australia in 2016 following a storm.

That has prompted federal and state governments to fund various storage solutions, such as pumped hydro and lithium-ion batteries. 

“We see grid-scale batteries as a critical part of the next wave of investment that will support the rapid and unprecedented changes we are seeing across Australia’s electricity systems,” said Ian Learmonth, chief executive of Australia’s clean energy finance corporation, a government agency.

There are several other big battery projects planned in Australia including a 900MW project proposed by Neoen in South Australia that would be connected to solar and wind farms. 

But Hornsdale’s reign as the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery could be short-lived.

In March, Florida Power and Light Company announced plans to build the world’s largest solar powered battery system with 409MW of capacity — equivalent to about 100m iPhone batteries. It is due to be completed in 2021.

Race to build the world’s biggest battery

A wind turbine stands at the Hornsdale wind farm, operated by Neoen SAS, near Jamestown, South Australia, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. About half the capacity of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery project is installed at Hornsdale wind farm in South Australia, Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk said at an event on Sept. 29. When this is done in just a few months, it will be the largest battery installation by a factor of three in the world, Musk said. Photographer: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg
© Bloomberg

Q4 2020

Vistra Energy is developing a 300MW battery storage plant at an existing power plant in Moss Landing, California

End of 2020

UK utility ScottishPower said in June it would build a 50MW lithium-ion battery to support its Whitelee wind farm in Scotland

Late 2021

Florida Power & Light plan to build a 409MW battery and solar plant by 2021 to replace an ageing gas plant in Manatee, Florida

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NextEra Energy resources is developing a 220MW battery storage facility as part of a combined wind and solar project in Oklahoma

No date set

Neoen has proposed building a 900MW battery as part of a massive solar and wind farm project in Goyder, South Australia

Dates indicate expected start of operations