An energy provider’s plan to build Australia’s largest battery is the latest development in a quickly transitioning energy market.

Key points:

  • Origin Energy wants to build Australia’s largest battery
  • The 700MW battery will be installed in the NSW Hunter region
  • It will be four times bigger than the Tesla battery in South Australia

Origin Energy has unveiled plans to build a giant 700-megawatt capacity battery at its coal-fired power plant in Eraring, south of Newcastle, in the New South Wales Hunter region.

If the plan goes ahead, the battery would be more than four times larger than the 150-megawatt Tesla battery in South Australia.

Origin’s executive general manager Greg Jarvis said the battery would support Origin’s transition away from coal-fired power generation by 2032.

Battery will use plant’s existing infrastructure

Origin released an expression of interest to private companies this week to construct and install the battery at its Eraring plant and has begun talking with network company Transgrid about connecting the battery to the national grid via the Eraring substation.

The Eraring plant — which is Australia’s largest power station — is Origin’s only coal-fired power plant. It is scheduled to be decommissioned in 2032.

The mega-battery will allow Origin to use the plant’s existing infrastructure and network connections long after the plant has stopped producing energy by burning coal.

The battery will also support the NSW energy grid’s transition away from fossil fuels and the entry of new solar and wind projects in coming decades.

“We recognise we have an important role to play in positioning Origin’s electricity generation portfolio to support Australia’s rapid transition to renewables,” Mr Jarvis said.

“A large-scale battery at Eraring will help us better support renewable energy and maintain reliable supply for customers, by having long duration storage ready to dispatch into the grid at times when renewable sources are not available.

“The deployment of this battery at Eraring will support Origin’s orderly transition away from coal-fired generation by 2032, while complementing the policy objectives of the NSW energy road map.”

The mega-battery will be built in three stages, with the first stage to be completed late next year.

Race is on for Australia’s biggest battery

Origin’s plan follows a similar announcement from French energy giant Neoen, which last month submitted planning documents for a 500MW mega-battery to be built in western NSW.

Neoen, which partnered with Tesla to build South Australia’s 150MW battery (which is still the world’s largest lithium-ion battery energy storage system), plans to build its new 500MW battery at the site of the former Wallerawang power plant, previously owned by Energy Australia before it was decommissioned.

Neoen has also teamed up with Tesla again to build a 300MW battery near Geelong in Victoria. That announcement was made in November.

As of October 2020, Neoen has over 1.6 gigawatts of renewable assets in operation or under construction in Australia, representing over $3 billion in investment, and it intends to reach 3 gigawatts, worth about $6 billion, by 2022.

Origin’s proposed 700MW battery, and Neoen’s 500MW battery in western NSW, will be the two largest storage devices in the world, and will be worth a combined $1 billion.

Origin’s battery will be four times larger than Tesla’s

Marnie Shaw, a research leader in the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program at the Australian National University, said it was a “big announcement”.

“The new battery, to give an idea of the scale, is more than four times the size of Australia’s largest battery in South Australia at Hornsdale,” Dr Shaw said, referring to the Tesla battery owned and operated by Neoen (Dr Shaw is a research partner with Neoen).

“I’m surprised because we’re not used to big numbers like this with batteries, but also not surprised as it’s so needed.

“It’s the important next step to support the very large-scale installation of renewable energy projects in NSW.

“It’s conveniently making the most of transmission assets that are already existing at Eraring.

“You make use of substations that are already there and the powerlines. The batteries will be providing an important role in stabilising the power grid as we move to renewables.”

The Tesla battery has supported South Australia’s renewable energy generation.(AC News: Charles Brice)

Dr Shaw said coal-fired power stations become increasingly unreliable as they age, so you need batteries near them to provide stable power security and stabilisation.

“Plus, to be powered by renewable energy you need stable power storage,” she said.

“There’s a huge amount of investment going into renewable energy in NSW.”

The Australian Energy Market Operator told the ABC that with the new projects being proposed there is now almost 7000MW of battery storage in the planning across Australia.

That is enough to store power for 3.5 million homes.

Dr Shaw said the private sector would also benefit from more policy certainty from the Federal Government.

“It would definitely be better to have more clear signals from the Federal Government about their strategy of supporting investment in renewables going forward,” she said.

“That would allow smaller companies to be able to play a role in the transition as well as there’d be less financial risk.

“The Australian Energy Market Operator has a plan — the integrated systems plan — but again it would benefit from Federal Government support.

“People should care about these batteries because they support our transition to a low carbon economy, which is reducing the impacts of climate change, energy prices, and supporting new investment and jobs in Australia.”

A major step to low emissions future

Tony Wood, an energy analyst with the Grattan Institute, said Origin’s battery plan was a major step towards a transition to a low emissions future.

“And I think what you can see here is companies looking to get ahead of those changes, so they’re well positioned when the opportunities start to arise,” he told ABC Radio.

“This isn’t going to be built tomorrow but getting even the first phase of this built by the end of next year is a pretty aggressive timetable.

“I’m sure this is going to be one of the most interesting [battery projects], but it won’t be the last,” he said.