Australian utility engagement points to bright future for battery storage

While the rapid growth of rooftop solar, and price reductions achieved from the PV sector right across the supply chain, may have caught some Australian utilities and network businesses unprepared, the way in which these bodies are engaging with battery storage points to the positive development of the storage market.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Logan Goldie-Scot says that along with Germany and to a lesser extent the UK, the Australian battery market is proving to be somewhat of a test balloon for the global industry.

“We certainly do see that there will be significant uptake of residential energy storage in Australia, but this is more consumers adding storage without fully defecting from the grid,” Goldie-Scot told pv magazine. “Australia stands out and is further ahead than some other markets largely because of the retailers and the regulator seems more willing to explore the opportunities surround storage.”

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AMEC) published a discussion paper in October, in which it investigated whether Australian market regulations needed to be changed to incorporate battery storage. It aims to create a regulatory framework by which storage can be deployed by households and consumers and utilized in ways to provide network support services. The submission period for this process closed on November 5.

These additional networks services could open attractive additional revenue streams for distributed storage, notes BNEF’S Goldie-Scot. “There are quite developed discussions. Whereas in some markets there has been a blunt approach to energy storage thus far, in Australia the conversation is clearly much more nuanced and that does make it a much more attractive market.”

The provision of such services could be in aggregated fashion or with larger battery arrays, and AMEC is attempting to establish rules for how businesses and network operators could participate in this space. However Goldie-Scot says that at present increased visibility as to how much battery storage is being added to Australian grids would be helpful.

“One of things that has not really been resolved is the idea of transparency and visibility in terms of small scale storage deployment,” said the BNEF analyst. “It will be very hard for any third party provider, or really anyone in Australia, to know precisely how much storage is connected to the grid at any one time. If Australia is to be an example for other countries to look at then this is a problem that has yet to be addressed in Australia, and has yet to be addressed anywhere.”

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) has attempted to provide tools through which distributed solar PV and its affects on Australia’s electricity market can be understood on an aggregate level through its APVI Solar Map. The map draws on PV production data provided voluntarily to the project and by major inverter providers to the Australian market. The APVI Map provides live solar generation data, historical maps and animations, and tools to explore rooftop PV potential and per-postcode market penetration.

Iain MacGill, the co-director the UNSW’s Center for Energy and Environmental Markets says that it is possible that data on storage deployment will not be required by the Australian Energy Market Commission. This would make the provision of the information that Goldie-Scot calls for difficult.

“To assess storage market opportunities, businesses really need half hour consumption data across a large sample of Australian households,” UNSW’s MacGill told pv magazine. “Only one Australian state has mandated smart meter rollout to all customers, and most Australian households only have simple accumulation meters. Even where smart meter data is available, there is no requirement for the networks or retailers to provide such data (suitably anonymized of course) to other businesses. It is entirely possible that detailed data on the deployment and operation of storage will, similarly to PV, not be made available by the electricity industry. This will certainly raise challenges for analysis by researchers and other businesses.”

pv magazine is rolling out a series of articles on battery storage and Australian market. The December 2015 edition of pv magazine includes a feature article on the regulatory and commercial landscape underpinning solar+storage market Down Under.

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