A MOBILE testing unit the size of a shipping container will soon be touring Australia to test battery energy storage under real world operating conditions and uploading the information to a publicly accessible database.
The project, which has received approximately $2 million of funding from government and private industry as well as significant in-kind support, will be led by Associate Professor Nesimi Ertugrul from the University of Adelaide.
"We will build a mobile test set up which can test the batteries themselves, the technology's applications under real environments as well as simulated conditions," Associate Professor Ertugrul said.
"Energy storage is becoming a very active industry. There are various commercial reports that make it apparent that in the next ten to twenty years, the market size will be over $20 billion dollars."
The result of a massive influx of battery storage on and off the grid will change the landscape of Australian power generation. As it stands, there are no large-scale databases as to how batteries and associated technologies will integrate and interact with the power grid around the country.
"There are implications for domestic use, small industry and very large scale storage. In addition, there is an implication on power quality and the stability of the system."
Ertugrul says that energy storage will make renewable sources of power more predictable. As it is, intermittent sources of power can fluctuate significantly in output. He cites one case where a renewable system dropped from 1,000 megawatts to just 100 within ten minutes.
"That much fluctuation is not acceptable. Adding power, as well as removing it, is not desirable for large-scale power systems. It can make them unstable and cause unwanted blackouts."
The mobile testing unit will be deployed in early 2016. It will consist of two containers. A larger shipping container will house inverters and other equipment, allowing the team to connect to various sources including large-scale solar systems and the grid.
The other unit contains battery storage, allowing different types of products to be tested. It also has its own data acquisition system where the team will collect all the information produced during tests. The two units will be connected together to perform the tests.
"The test units can be transferred by truck anywhere in Australia. A location will be defined by the customer and we'll set it up. That might take a couple of days or a week, depending on the nature of the application. The units will stay there for a given period of time, from weeks, to months, or even a year," Associate Professor Ertugrul explains.
"For example, one of our industry partners is a power vendor and they're looking to test systems over this time period, specifically in Summer when demand is high."
The test unit will collect a huge range of data, including environmental conditions, battery temperature, battery voltage and current, cathode temperature, as well as power quality data on a given connection point.
"We can test how a specific battery operates under specific load conditions. We can even simulate load conditions, and observe battery performance under load variations."
The result will be a wealth of information for public access, as well as use by government and private industry. Battery safety will be extensively tested, as well as their performance under real conditions.
Home energy storage systems like ZEN Energy's Powerbank will soon be a common sight.
It will also be used to train students and professionals, shoring up Australia's knowledge base on battery storage integration in to power networks and off-grid applications.
The unit's first priority will be its industry partners, which includes players such SA Power Networks and Solar Storage. At a later stage, anyone who wants to test their own battery system or converter technologies will be able to install the unit and have Ertugrul's team test it.
In the long term, he hopes to expand the program to a research platform to be able to develop technologies for distributed generation and microgrid applications. This will include the development of software control systems for larger as well as more complex systems.
In addition, using the data for research projects, Ertugrul also thinks his team will be able to consult with industry and others. They'll be able to recommend storage systems and offer system designs for a specific energy storage application based on actual data, rather than commercial claims.
While they're currently focusing on the practical outputs of storage, he also hopes that the research activities on energy storage can be expanded to various levels while offering complementary services to those provided in many other research institutes such as the CSIRO.
"Storage, in my view, is going to be a seriously large market. The Department of Energy in the US is sponsoring storage projects with hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants," Ertugrul explains.
"In the next five years, it's expected the cost of energy storage will drop five times. That means that, very shortly, it will become seriously economical, from a standard house to large scale. That's why we have to push this. Last year the cost of energy per kilowatt-hour was around $500. Tesla has announced their battery at something around $300 per kilowatt-hour.
"If it goes down to $100 per kilowatt-hour, that's very competitive compare to the current energy price as well as for domestic requirements and industrial applications. This price range will also allow the public to question the current practices of energy providers”
Associate Professor Ertugrul is a prolific researcher with a career spanning more than thirty years. He has been published on numerous topics including power electronics systems, electrical machines, vehicle technologies and renewable energy systems. He is currently involved with the Centre for Energy Technology at the University of Adelaide.
ARENA CEO Ivor Frischknecht said the collaborative project led by the University of Adelaide was an important next step for energy storage development and would build on other efforts already underway.
“Reliable, cost effective storage has a vital role to play in smoothing out energy supply and increasing the amount of renewable energy used in Australia,” Mr Frischknecht said.
“The new knowledge bank will act as a central repository of energy storage expertise, bringing together reports and case studies, along with information on regulation, reliability, safety, operation and performance of energy storage systems in Australia.
ARENA has committed $1.4 million support for the project. SA Power Networks, Energy Networks Association, Solar Storage Australia and the South Australian Government are collectively contributing $650,000 towards the project.
Integration specialists Power and Drive Solutions and ZEN Energy Systems are providing in-kind expertise and support to build the test facility, which is scheduled for deployment at the first site on the SA Power Networks grid by early 2016.
Minister for Mineral Resources and Energy, Tom Koutsantonis, said: "The University of Adelaide should be congratulated on a commercial research proposition which has strong private sector support and fosters the State’s advanced manufacturing expertise.
"Innovations like this also directly contribute to South Australia’s economic priority of unlocking the full potential of our resources, energy and renewable assets and supports our commitment towards Adelaide becoming a carbon neutral city," Mr Koutsantonis said.