By ERWIN CHLANDA
So THAT’S what a battery looks like!
That was the reaction of solar boffins and enthusiasts this morning when they were taken on a Cook’s Tour of BESS by Territory Generation’s (TGen) Louis Johansson and Alisdair McDonald.
BESS – short for battery energy storage system – is what power courtesy of the sun is largely all about.
The visit to this very new plant on the site of the very old Ron Goodin power station was organised by the Arid Lands Environment Centre’s Jimmy Cocking and other members to celebrate World Environment Day.
The heart of the plant – actually there are three hearts, in three containers (photo at top) – are a whole bunch of drawers with, well, batteries inside.
They hold electricity which came from solar, gas and diesel powered generators, including the old thumpers in the shed alongside whose noise has driven residents up the wall in the upmarket suburb next-door for years.
These engines and the screaming turbine just outside will be shut down for good some time soon.
The heavy lifting will be moved to the 10 new gas powered piston engines, on which Adam Giles spent a controversial $75m, still undergoing final checks at Brewer Estate.
However, the gradual transfer to solar in Alice Springs has made a big step forward with BESS.
At the moment, this is what she is doing: About 15% of the town’s power is solar, mostly from Uterne, near Radio 8HA.
Its supply is subject to intermittent cloud cover, sometimes creating many peaks and troughs, as a graph shown by Mr McDonald (pictured) illustrated.
BESS will smooth out these ups and downs, being capable of springing into action very quickly.
Secondly, relying on “spinning reserve” will be reduced.
In order to respond to fluctuations in power demand the fuel guzzling piston engines – at least some of them – have to be kept running. Sometimes that leads to load shedding – the kind of waste that would give any true blue Greenie the horrors.
At certain times power is being produced by a variety of sources just to be sure TGen isn’t caught with its pants down.
Again, BESS to the rescue: It can bridge the few minutes it takes to get additional generators up to speed. That means fewer engines need to be online at times.
The BESS capacity is equivalent to around 10% of the town’s demand with 40 minutes of storage providing the smoothing and “spinning reserve” services. Minister Dale Wakefield put the cost of the battery at $8.3m.
How many BESSs would it take to make the town entirely solar, the ambition of the local RePower Alice group to be achieved by 2030? It’s still a big question. The government’s aim is 50% solar by 2030.
Necessarily, this will be a gradual process, but as it continues the pollution from fossil fuels will diminish and we will make use of a clean resource that we have in such generous supply.
This development can be expected to benefit from drops in costs such as have made solar panels more and more affordable.