Australia pours funding into advanced inverter capability batteries


Australia is looking to accelerate demonstration of advanced inverter capabilities on battery projects at scale as it continues to search for new ways to provide stability to the electricity system and enable the grid to operate with higher shares of intermittent renewables.

Building on its previous investments in both grid scale batteries and system security, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) will now allocate AU$100 million ($73 million) to further investigate grid-forming inverters that can enable utility-scale batteries to provide system stability services traditionally provided by synchronous generation, such as coal or gas.

Named the Large-Scale Battery Storage Funding Round, the new ARENA program will provide funding to grid-scale batteries of 70MW or larger operating operating in the National Electricity Market or Western Australia’s Wholesale Electricity Market. In addition to supporting new build projects, funding will also be available to existing grid scale batteries seeking to retrofit advanced inverter capability or expand an existing or committed battery by constructing a new adjacent project, and incorporating advanced inverter functionality across both the existing and new assets.

It is expected that the funding round will support at least three projects, with a maximum grant available of AUD35 million per project. Applications will be open to all battery energy storage technologies, provided that they are equipped with advanced inverters, ARENA stated.

Demonstration at scale

The funding round aims to incentivize and derisk private sector investment and overcome barriers to the deployment of advanced inverter technology. By funding advanced inverter technology at scale, ARENA hopes to provide valuable insights into the operations and emerging capabilities of advanced inverters.

“Grid scale batteries and other types of energy storage technology will be vital to support our future electricity system powered by renewables,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said. “This funding round will demonstrate the role of advanced inverters in grid scale batteries to provide system stability, facilitating a more efficient transition and accelerate the uptake of renewable generation.”

Unlike traditional, grid-following inverters which sync their output to the grid’s voltage waveforms, advanced or grid-forming inverters can set their own frequencies without the inertia generated by large spinning pieces of hardware. This makes them capable of providing the grid with virtual inertia replacing the mechanical inertia traditionally provided by synchronous generators while reducing the current curtailment of solar PV and wind generation.

ARENA's funding initiative follows the release of the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Application of Advanced Grid-scale Inverters in the NEM report, which highlights the great potential of this technology. The report identifies four key areas of application for advanced inverters – including connecting inverter-based resources in weak grids, supporting system security, island operation, and system restart.

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In line with the findings, the paper set out clear recommendations for immediate action to capture the opportunities of advanced inverters, including enabling capabilities on new grid-scale batteries.

Further funding and support is needed to assist as many new grid-scale battery deployments as possible to incorporate grid-forming capabilities, to build a fleet that can support the transition to high IBR penetration by 2025,” AEMO said.

Another recent study by Powerlink Queensland found that batteries with advanced inverters can play a valuable role in maintaining system strength, supplementing the use of synchronous condensers. The study has showed that grid forming batteries can play a constructive role enabling renewables and supporting the operation of the power system. It found that a 100MW battery can support the connection of 300MW of inverter based generation, specific to the particular case examined.

Growing fleet

Presently, Australia’s largest grid-connected battery using advanced inverter technology is another ARENA funded project – the 30MW/8MWh the Dalrymple ESCRI battery situated on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. But, this will be soon overshadowed by the 150MW/193.5MWh Hornsdale Power Reserve, aka the Tesla Big Battery, also in South Australia, once it completes its upgrades to advanced inverters.

Earlier this year, Australian utility AGL broke ground on the 250MW/250MWh Torrens Island battery, touted as the largest planned grid-forming battery in the world. The system will initially start out with a one-hour duration (250MWh) but will be capable of expanding to up to four-hour duration in the future (1000MWh). The Torrens Island battery will be delivered by Finnish technology company Wartsila, use over 100 inverters with grid-forming capabilities supplied from German-headquartered company SMA.

In ARENA's latest funding round, expressions of interest will open in February, with a due date of March 31. Selected projects will be invited to submit a full application later in the year.

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