Batteries, grids and power plays – what they’re saying this week

2017 Australian energy storage conference.
2017 Australian energy storage conference.

The Energy Storage Conference was in its second day on Thursday and no doubt a topic of conversation was Standards Australia’s draft proposal to make keeping a lithium battery onsite very difficult if not impossible at a reasonable cost.

The story which we broke last week, Battery storage standard could threaten growing market, flags that batteries may need to be contained in a fireproof facility of some sort and kept away from the house.

Standards Australia develops standards, and it’s up to the states and territories to implement them and make them law.

So are battery owners being discriminated against and part of the pushback from coal to rid the industry of competition? And what did the experts at the Energy Storage Conference think?

We started with a man who has a vault of batteries on the front verandah of his terrace house in Chippendale in Sydney, Michael Mobbs, also known as “The Off Grid Guy” as part of his quest to be as utilities bill-free and sustainably independent as possible.

This is what Mobbs said:

“My lithium ion batteries have been outside my bedroom on my terrace balcony facing south since March 2015.

“That’s about two metres from the bed I sleep in.  At night, the green led light on the display tells me they are that close.

“Would I prefer there was no risk of fire from them? Of course.

“Would I retrofit them with hours-long insulation? Don’t be silly.

“This stuff – risk – is simple but the draft guidelines, and the consulting-hungry, self-serving, fingers-in-the-pie authors, have turned it into a 12-course degustation menu for others to pay for.

“Measuring risk now gets easier every day for me and here are the risks not mentioned in the draft guidelines:

Finally, he pointed to the “fair dinkum” test. There were around 6000 batteries installed in Australia last year, he says, and another 20,000 expected in 2017 or soon after.

With tens of thousands installed worldwide and none known to have caused a fire, Mobbs is asking where is “the robust science and risk assessment that would quantify the fires which have occurred so far and analyse the data”.

You’d expect an evidence-based set of guidelines, he reckons.

“But, no, not when the authors are interested in driving up industry consulting costs; that’s the risk I fear.”

This doesn’t mean Mobbs loves his batteries.

They have failed him.

“My batteries are providing just 46 per cent of the promised amount of power and are being replaced by other products and installers. I do not recommend them or their installers.”

He points to this post and this blog post on Sustainable House.

At the wider industry level there is dismay at the proposed standard and some have said it’s a bad idea that probably won’t gain traction. Like any bad regulation the possibility is it will be ignored by most, but penalise the companies keen to do the right thing and be seen to do the right thing.

At the Energy Storage Conference at the International Convention Centre, Sydney, this week the delegates noted the draft standard but were more focused on the Finkel report and the burgeoning opportunities and possibilities in providing Australia with a cleaner more reliable energy grid.

Industry executive at Australian Energy Storage Alliance

Mary Hendriks

, who chaired one of the sessions and helped organise the conference, said the mood at the conference was “very positive” and hopeful. Australian and overseas investors were particularly interested in the Australian industry, she said.

“Investors are interested in Australia because of the phase out of coal fired power stations such as Hazelwood and the interest in various states in supporting their power systems,” she said.

Big topics of conversation were grid scale storage and the various ways the grid could be supported to include renewable energy, whether through micro grids, pumped hydro or battery systems.

On Finkel, Hendriks said, “The industry in general is fairly supportive of the report as a first step approach.”

It was now keen to find some political certainty coming out of the process.

Overall the mood was more positive and upbeat than this time last year.

“What’s changed in Australia in the past year is the support for integration of renewables in the grid. Which is why the Finkel report is so important.”

On battery storage Hendriks said the interest in household renewable power is more by way of aggregation. Mircro grid systems would work just as well overall, with batteries installed at the precinct scale.

For the early adopters, such as Michael Mobbs, that’s sometime in the future; what they want is off grid battery storage now, and that it doesn’t mean breaking the law.

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