Elon Musk and Tesla have made headlines in Australian energy news in recent months. Tesla installed a 100-MW / 129-MWh battery in South Australia in late 2017, the largest of its kind in the world at the time of completion. The project was delivered one month ahead of schedule and has been demonstrating its ability to respond to grid faults in fractions of a second. The system is officially called the Hornsdale Power Reserve, but is better known as Tesla’s big battery.
However, an even larger project has been announced for OneSteel, now part of the UK-based conglomerate GFG Alliance. In late 2017 they unveiled their plans for large-scale investment in renewable generation and energy storage, but now more details have been provided. One of their planned investments is a 120-MW / 140-MWh battery at Port Whyalla, which has 20% more power output and 8.5% more storage capacity than the Tesla unit.
The Whyalla Port battery is just one of many energy investments planned by GFG Alliance for OneSteel. They also plan to deploy more than 1,000 MW of solar power capacity to reduce electricity expenses for their metalworking operations in Whyalla.
No company can become independent from the electricity network with solar power alone, since production is diminished in cloudy days and reduced to zero at night. GFG Alliance are aware of this: the 120-MW battery is part of their strategy to address their issue and they have already secured a $10 million loan from the South Australia state government. More energy storage projects are planned, including a pumped-storage hydroelectricity (PSH) facility with 90 MW of generation capacity and 390 MWh of storage.
OneSteel have also launched a program to help their 6,000 employees become energy independent. If an employee wants to deploy solar power with batteries at home, the company provides financing and allows payment through a salary deduction.
Australia is characterised by abundant wind and solar resources, but their viability as an energy source for manufacturing has been questioned in the past. However, companies like OneSteel are demonstrating that the concept is viable. Coal-fired power plants have supplied most of Australia’s electricity for decades, but the larger facilities are reaching the end of their service life and becoming less reliable.
Coal has been considered a cheaper electricity source than wind and sunlight, but this overlooks a key fact: renewable generation projects are still recovering their capital and financing expenses, while old coal-fired power plants paid off their upfront costs long ago. When you compare a new coal power plant with a new wind or solar farm, the balance tips in favor of renewables.
The GFG Alliance renewable energy plans for OneSteel are probably the largest in scale among private companies in Australia, but this is not the first case. Last year, GMA Garnet announced a 3-MW microgrid for their mining operations in West Australia, based on renewable generation and energy storage.