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Tasmanian Testbed for Large Integrated Renewable Energy Projects Ramps Up

A small island lying in the Bass Strait between Australia's states of Victoria and Tasmania is set to become the testbed for one of the most sophisticated integrated renewable energy technologies in the world.

The A$46 million (US$47.5 million) King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project (KIREIP) developed by state-owned Hydro Tasmania, with the help of state and federal funding, combines a range of new and existing technologies with the aim of reducing the island’s dependence on expensive diesel-generated power. Uniquely, the system will allow for the integration of wind, solar and conventional diesel — eventually to be replaced with bio-diesel – with a giant battery that enables energy storage and smoothing of intermittency without any loss of reliability or grid stability.

“The way these technologies are being used and integrated is world-leading and another example of the clever solutions to real-world problems that have been developed in Tasmania and can be exported globally,” company chairman Dr. David Crean said in a statement. Hydro Tasmania is looking to take KIREIP to other remote and off-grid locations in Australia and around the world.

“Although there are remote area power systems in some parts of the world that are capable of supplying the energy needs of single homes or small villages, this is the first remote system on this scale capable of supplying the energy needs of an entire community primarily through wind and solar energy,” chief executive Roy Adair said in a statement.

KIREIP will deploy Australia’s largest battery, developed by Ecoult — the local subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based battery manufacturer East Penn Manufacturing. Its 3-MW/1.6-MWh UltraBattery has the capacity to power the entire island for up to 45 minutes, enabling Hydro Tasmania to realise substantial savings, Hydro Tasmania’s manager of renewable asset development Simon Gamble told Renewable Energy World. 

Invented by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), UltraBattery is an advanced hybrid lead-acid battery that operates very efficiently in continuous partial state of charge use without frequent overcharge maintenance cycles.

Gamble said Hydro Tasmania is currently in discussions with local utilities about providing the integrated solution to other remote communities in Australia, Western Australia and Queensland. KIREIP is expected to provide a good insight into what future grids might look like in 20-30 years, deploying a combination of renewable technologies, backed up by dispatchable power and storage.

Ecoult’s chief executive, Australian John Wood, said the UltraBattery would “shift and smooth” renewable energy generated on King Island and help maintain stability of the power grid. “Ecoult’s UltraBattery solutions support the utilisation of renewable energy by storing energy in periods where there is excess generation and making it available when it is needed to better match demand,” Wood said in a statement. 

The island, with a mixture of residential and large commercial power customers — such as a National Foods dairy processing plant — installed its first wind turbines in 1998 in an attempt to head off the crippling cost of diesel. Today, it has a maximum renewable energy capacity of 2.45 MW, which Gamble said the company expects to expand to 6 MW in a couple of years in order to meet peak demand of 3 MW. The shorter-term aim is for the system to meet 65 percent of the island’s energy needs.

Ecoult already has two successful large systems in the U.S., supported by the Department of Energy: a PNM-owned 550-kW solar PV smoothing and shifting project in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which provides variability management directly at the point of generation; and a regulation services site on the PJM Grid providing variability management directly on the grid. On King Island, Ecoult is providing variability management on an island grid.

The company has also successfully demonstrated its technology at the Hampton Wind Farm in the Blue Mountains, near Sydney, one of the largest storage projects in the Southern Hemisphere.

The research links the UltraBattery system with algorithms designed to analyse weather patterns and fine-tune the storage system to the power input that is on the way, which in turn helps smooth-out power supply to the grid. The over-arching objective of the research was to achieve higher penetration of wind and renewable energy in grids.

In the US context, energy storage has just received a boost by “pay for performance”, which means systems such as the one of the PJM Network now are “very strong economic propositions,” Wood said. “You will see an expansion of adoption for box storage into those sorts of applications in the US,” he said.

Wood sees a promising outlook for energy storage solutions on the grid. “King Island will be the model used over and over,” he said. “We are really trying to make the energy storage solution standard and simple for the developer.”

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