Battery farms begin to change the face of rural Australia

A new type of farm is springing up across country Australia – battery farms.

The transport assets are high-capacity power lines and substations.

And the Federal Government’s Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is keen to make the most of the trend and to be wholly integrated with the nation’s power network.

“Battery storage is an essential technology in the transition to renewable energy,” says ARENA CEO Darren Miller. “It allows us to smooth out variable generation and store electricity for when it’s needed.”

But only if those battery farms have the necessary technology.

Grid forming inverters convert electricity from the direct current (DC) in batteries to the alternating current (AC) accessed across the power network. But they can also react to the health of the entire grid.

ARENA has allocated $176 million to eight projects across Australia under its Large Scale Battery Storage Funding Round.

“Next generation grid scale batteries will underpin this transition, with inverter technology that can maintain grid stability without fossil fuels,” Miller says. “This pipeline of grid-forming projects will help move us closer to an electricity grid that can support 100 per cent renewable energy in the National Energy Market.”

Each of the eight grid scale lithium-ion batteries will be at least 200 megawatts (MW) / 400-megawatt hours (MWh) in size.

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Blyth battery
Artists impression of the Blyth battery farm

A case study is a 200 MW / 400MWh battery being built at Blyth in South Australia. The town is in the mid-north, just west of Clare, and 134 km north of Adelaide.

Work began this month on the facility which is alongside the Blyth West substation. Its owner, Noeon, wants to use it to store and balance the output of its nearby 412 MW Goyder South wind farm.

It’s the fifth large-scale battery facility the French renewable energy firm is building in Australia. And 70 MW of its output has been allocated to BHP as renewable baseload for its Olympic Dam operations.

ARENA is funding the installation of advanced inverter technology for the Blyth facility to provide the grid-wide stability services needed to reduce the threat of blackouts. This ability to react to peaks and troughs in supply and demand is the last remaining advantage offered by gas and coal plants, and expensive diesel “peaking” generators.

Battery farms across Australia

The Clean Energy Council says there are now 15 battery farms across Australia.

“During the next five years, an additional 18 projects will be introduced that are currently either under construction, reached financial close or have development approval,” the Clean Energy Council announced last year. “This is expected to bring an additional 3.6GW – a 351 per cent increase – of power to the market.”

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) 2022 Integrated System Plan predicts 47GW of new battery and hydro storage will be online in Australia by 2050.

The battery-building boom began once SA’s Hornsdale Power Reserve began operating in late 2017.

Billionaire Elon Musk built the plant as the result of a bet that his Tesla battery technology could solve the state’s load-balancing crisis as intermittent generation from renewables such as wind and solar began to force fossil fuel generators out of the market.

Operated by Noeon, it received additional funding from ARENA in 2019 to enable further expansion. At 150 MW / 194 MWh, it’s the largest grid-forming battery currently operational in Australia.

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