Australian battery storage guide – Energy Storage Council

In May I attended a solar and storage conference.  This was put on, jointly, by the Australian Solar Council and the Energy Storage Council, and the two conference streams ran in parallel.  I only attended the talks at the solar stream, but one of the main things I took away from the conference was that most of the discussion in the solar conference focused on storage technologies and options.  While I think this may be a symptom of solar tech having been talked to death in some ways (how many different ways can you talk about irradiation and price predictions), battery and storage technologies, and how they can interact with solar installations are clearly hot topics in Australia at the moment.

The Energy Storage Council announced that they had recently released an Australian Battery Guide, which is a Guide for the sale, design, installation and stewardship of Energy Storage Systems (ESS):

“This guide specifies general requirements for design and installation of all ESS, including those connected, and not connected, to a power distribution system and those that are not connected to a power distribution system.”

It’s a 16 step guide, which looks at key terminologies and concepts, configuration considerations, associated risks and hazards, housing and enclosure considerations, installation and labelling recommendations, and commissioning and maintenance recommendations.  It also highlights the absence of applicable Australian standards relating to storage, and the importance of addressing this going forward.

16 part battery guide scope [Source: Energy Storage Council]
16 part battery guide scope [Source: Energy Storage Council]
It also looks at the various functions that storage plays and the benefits that can be realised by the consumer.  Some installation types listed include:

  • UPS systems
  • Grid connected systems
  • Offgrid systems

In addition, it lists the following as benefits associated with battery storage:

  • Load Shifting
  • Tariff Optimisation
  • Load Support or Demand Reduction
  • Renewable Export Mitigation
  • Network Support

Going forward, the Energy Storage Council indicated that they will be putting together a location database of storage systems, to provide information that is important for policy makers, decision makers, utilities and emergency services (such as fire response teams, who may need to know about the location and nature of battery installations).  They mentioned that they have a working prototype, but it seems clear that there is quite a lot of work (and data aggregation) to be done before this becomes a useful and functioning tool.

In addition, they indicated that they will be putting together a battery product white list.  This will look at international testing processes, to ensure that batteries installed in Australia are tested rigorously.  This is important in the absence of local standards governing the type of batteries installed, and the nature of the installation.

Coal and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef


Last year I had some unbeatable diving experiences.  As what will undoubtedly go down as some of the most memorable experiences in my life, my husband and I went snorkelling off the Whitsunday Islands, we did a five day live-aboard trip which went from Lizard Island out to the Osprey Reef (far out into the big blue, it’s an underground volcano, with a 1km drop off the reef), and then we got to do some incredible diving in the Philippines.


The live-aboard experience in particular was amazing.  The Great Barrier Reef is magnificent, and worth all of the hype.  We spent time swimming with sharks, potato cods and turtles.  But the smaller life, the damsel fish (think Nemo), the cleaning wrasse and the angel fish, swimming around the soft and hard coral; it was all spectacular.  The whole ecosystem is amazing, and I feel a sense of sadness that I am not currently in the water, watching them all go about their business.


I have not dived enough to know what insidious damage to the coral looks like, but I have dived in places that have shown me the marvel of the reef when it is healthy and swelling with life.  I saw obvious signs of coral damage in the Philippines, close to the harbours, and near to where the massive tour groups descend.  But slow and creeping bleaching, taking over bit by bit, that I would not have had the experience to spot.


What’s come up a few times in the media since I’ve moved to Australia is the large (massive) scale damage to the Reef that has been observed by science teams recently.  In the Northern section of Australia in particular, which is where we launched from last year.

People have picked up on the extent of the damage to one of their most beloved natural resources, and are making lots of noise about protecting it from further damage.

In the spotlight is the Adani Carmichael coal mine.  “The Carmichael Mine, owned by the Indian conglomerate Adani, will cover an area seven times the size of Sydney harbour.  When the A$16bn (£9.9bn; $16bn) project is developed, the plan is to export 60 million tonnes of coal each year to India, for 60 years.” [BBC]  One of the major concerns is the infrastructure along the coast that will need to be expanded to accommodate this massive increase in coal exports.  That infrastructure will be along the section of Australia closest to the Reef.

It’s incredibly sad.  Not only from a climate change mitigation perspective, but coal mines are notoriously dirty, and the operators are not known for their observation of environmental rules, regs or even best practice.

While walking in Camberwell, Melbourne last week I walked past the office of Josh Frydenberg, who is the is the Liberal member for Kooyong and Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia (@JoshFrydenberg).  All along the ground where messages written in chalk for Frydenberg, and I must have missed a protest by a matter of hours.  The message is clear: the prioritisation of the coral reef, and Australia’s natural resources, over coal.




I’ll be keeping an ear open for what happens on this issue.  My hope is that Australia listens carefully to very real and relevant concerns; because I shouldn’t be amongst the last to see what a thriving coral reef looks like.


Biloela’s Callide coal power station & open pit mine

I spent a bit of time up in Biloela in July.  I’ve spent quite a lot of time there actually, as much of my husband’s family lives there.  The name Biloela comes from an aboriginal word meaning white cockatoo, and they are really everywhere.  It’s strangely beautiful land.  Dry, bushy and hot as blazes, but lots of sloping hills and creeks and a big ol’ dam.

It also has a large coal fired power station with an open pit coal mine just behind it.  The Callide Power Station has a capacity of 1.6GW and employs around 210 people and the coal mine would employ many more.  Biloela has a population of about 6,000 people, and when you speak to people there, inevitably someone in their family has worked there, or is working in some field where the power station or mine is a client.

We drove up to a lookout point where you could see over the top of the mine and we watched as the trucks and diggers went about their business.  While it is a scar on the land, and many people in Bilo know and understand that and believe that renewables are the future, what struck me during this visit is that the power station forms part of this small town, and all 1.6GW of it are intertwined in how the town functions.  I mean, they built a road specifically so that you could look out over the mining operations.  The replacement of coal is not easy, and it won’t be comfortable, particularly for little towns like Bilo.

I attended a talk in Canberra when I was there and someone suggested that a commitment from government and all utilities to never building another coal power station would be a start.  Then other little towns may not form a dependency on something that mars the landscape so drastically.  While that’s not really ambitious enough on a global scale, on a small town scale, where your empathy for communities helps to blur issues, it’s at least something.

Callide mine Callide mine2Callide mine5Callide mine4



Australia’s solar PV rooftop installations

Australia is great for rooftop solar PV installations.  Pretty much everywhere you go, particularly in Queensland, you see PV on roofs.

Solar PV3
Accommodation resort in Townsville, with a pretty impressive installation

In 2014, household and rooftop solar installations under 100kW generated nearly 5,000GWh, accounting for over 2% of total generation or 15% of renewables generation.  There’s over 4GW of small scale solar systems installed as at the end of 2014. In addition, there are over 900,000 solar water heating systems installed too. [CEC, 2014]

I spoke to someone who recently installed the system below in Biloela.  They joined in on the solar craze quite late and are being paid 6.53c/kWh exported to the grid.  They organised a deal with the installer to reduce overall installation costs but expect to have the system paid off in four years (even with the reduced subsidy).  They’re also saving from the get go as they’re paying it off in instalments, so their overall electricity bills have gone down  from the start.  They’re also trying to move some of their electricity usage into the day (dish washers/washing machines), when they can offset their electricity consumption rate, and this is helping them to save even more.

Their parents accessed the subsidy when it was still around 26c/kWh, and they are laughing their way to the bank it seems.

3kW system installed in Biloela, Queensland
3kW system installed in Biloela, Queensland

In Boonah (I went to all the big towns) I visited a retirement village where there were a number of solar systems installed on the independent living units.  These had been installed on a leasing arrangement, and the systems are still owned and maintained by the original installer.  The residents had been asked if they would prefer to purchase the systems, as they’d make more money over the longterm, but this would require these elderly home owners to maintain the systems.  Considering that many of these were installed when the rebate was still 50c/kWh, it’s unsurprising that most have elected to opt to retain the lease.  The lady I spoke to was making about $100 a quarter which she saves up with the utility, and claims back when it gets to about $400.  This was a story that made me really see the possibly unreported benefits that this rebate has had.

Solar PV1
Boonah retirement village installation

International Energy Centre – Masters of Energy Studies

On the 3rd August I gave an intro talk on the South African renewable energy procurement programme to students taking part in the International Energy Centre’s Masters of Energy Studies programme.  I met with the education programme manager, Sebastian Thomas, while I was still in Brisbane, and he gave me a brief overview of the course focus, and who takes part in it.

There are three member universities; namely the University of Queensland, the University of Western Australia and the University of Newcastle.  The course is aimed at technical and management professionals, and Sebastian described it as an MBA equivalent for energy.

Course content focuses on technical, financial and policy issues.

Thanks to the IEC for the opportunity to share some info on what’s going on in South Africa.

If you’d like to read a bit more on these studies, you can find this here:

I am available to do talks and lectures as I go if there is further interest in hearing about this.  This talk was done in an online webinar format, which worked really well, particularly since I am hopping between locations.  Contact me on vivi (at) if you are interested.

Australia’s electricity market – some of the key players

I met with Mark Lampard from AECOM earlier this week, and he gave me a run down on how the electricity market works in Australia.

There area a lot of players, a lot of different relationships and the situation is different in each state. It can be a bit of a dry topic, so bear with me on this one.

The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) is the rule maker for the National Electricity Rules and the National Energy Retail Rules. These govern the operation of the National Electricity and Energy Retail Markets. These Rules are made under the National Electricity Law. The AEMC is directed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG)’s Energy Council. Their function is to develop integrated and coherent national energy policy and they promote energy policy reforms.

The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) is responsible for regulating the energy market in accordance with the electricity and energy rules. Their key functions include:

  • “setting the prices charged for using energy networks (electricity poles and wires and gas pipelines) to transport energy to customers
  • monitoring wholesale electricity and gas markets to ensure suppliers comply with the legislation and rules, and taking enforcement action where necessary
  • regulating retail energy markets in the ACT, South Australia, Tasmania (electricity only) and New South Wales.
  • publishing information on energy markets
  • assisting the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with energy-related issues arising under the Competition and Consumer Act, including enforcement, mergers and authorisations.

We only discussed how the eastern and south-eastern network operates. The National Electricity Market (NEM) incorporates Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales (which includes ACT), Queensland and Tasmania.

This network is operated by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). Their function is broad, and, within the electricity sector, they operate on both the wholesale and retail side. I’ve put the graphic below together, based on the AEMO’s corporate brochure to try to simplify some of what they do. I’ve not included their functions within the gas market.


Generators sell power, and retailers buy power, to sell onto customers. Some generators are also retailers, and they can spread their power source (e.g. fuel) as they choose (as long as they comply with constraints or targets, such as the RET).

The transmission and distribution sector is totally regulated, however some states have publically owned infrastructure, and others have moved towards privitisation. T&D networks are a natural monopoly, and are therefore regulated, in terms of cost to customer. The AER is responsible for this regulation within the NEM. Regulation and coordination would be incredibly important, given the size of the eastern & south-eastern grid. The image below, knicked from the AEMO brochure again, demonstrates its extent. They indicate that the grid has an installed capacity of 50GW, generating around 200TWh/year, with transmission lines covering around 40,000km.

Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 12.05.09 PM

[Thank you to Mark for input on this subject. It’s a complicated topic, not easy to distill down into a short post, or to cover fully in a short lunch meeting.]

Building energy efficiency in Australia – a chat with Arup in Melbourne

MelbourneI, until very recently, used to work for Arup, an international engineering consultancy. So I’m using this travel opportunity to visit the various Arup offices around the world. So far I’ve been to the Sydney and Melbourne offices, and I’ll be heading off to Brisbane soon.

In Melbourne I met with Nick Adams, who focuses on buildings projects and heads up the mechanical services team. We had a good chat about what’s been going on in the Australian building sector with regards to energy consumption, and the various initiatives that have landed on Australia’s shores which seek to improve the energy efficiency of buildings.

I have been to Melbourne before, when I was much younger, in 2001, and, coming from small town Cape Town, I was blown away by the glass skyscrapers. They really were the enduring memory of the city that I had.

There is a Building Code of Australia and the “goal of the BCA is to enable the achievement of nationally consistent, minimum necessary standards of relevant safety (including structural safety and safety from fire), health, amenity and sustainability objectives efficiently.” This Code outlines the minimum performance specifications that new buildings have to comply with, effectively setting the lowest possible bar. As energy efficiency becomes more topical, Adams says that these minimum criteria are not difficult to meet, but that the Code has started to have an impact on Melbourne’s skyline, as the minimum criteria for energy consumption and building envelope design are now impacting whether buildings can get away with floor to ceiling glass façades.

In 2005 the Green Star rating system was introduced in Australia, providing building owners with aspirational targets. This has helped to drag the industry forward, but, as we’ve seen in South Africa too, there are certain negative aspects to it which come through as the sector starts to settle and mature. This largely relates to the tick box nature of rating a building according to sometimes onerous lists. It also results in certain interventions being selected because they tick a box, but they may not necessarily have any significant real world impact.

More recently, the US rating system LEED is being used more frequently, particularly by multi-nationals who have used LEED in other countries. The UK’s BREEAM tool is not commonly used in Australia, even by UK based organisations.

More recently, another US performance standard, the Living Building Challenge, is picking up popularity. This focuses on a building’s beauty, sense of place and efficiency. It’s harder to check or rate than the other tools.

Another one is the Well Building Standard; this looks at the health of the building, the enjoyment that the tenants get from occupying the building and their “health and wellness [should be] at the center of design.” It’s a hard standard to comply with.

Lastly there is the Commercial Building Disclosure programme. This programme “requires energy efficiency information to be provided in most cases when commercial office space of 2000 square metres or more is offered for sale or lease.” The aim is for prospective buyers or tenants to enter into a purchasing or leasing agreement fully informed. What this does is introduce the building’s electricity and energy consumption levels as a competitive element amongst building owners. Adams says that the real estate agents are latching onto energy statistics, and using this as promotional indicators for their clients.

Seems there’s a lot happening in this space.

[Thanks Nick for your time, and showing me the beautiful Melbourne skyline from your offices!]

The wind health issue being discussed in Australia

Last Friday I had a very interesting call with Ketan Joshi to help me get a bit of a better understanding on the background of the wind/health conundrum. Ketan works in renewable energy and is, by his own admission, biased towards renewables. He has, however, been following this issue actively, is very well-informed on the subject, and I’ve found the information and thoughts he’s been sharing on twitter very interesting.

I’ve never come across this issue before. In South Africa, where there is a lot of wind going up (3.3GW procured to date), a lot of the issues that are being faced are around the visual impact, potential impact on other infrastructure / activities (e.g. SKA/airport radars etc) or around technical considerations like grid connection or structural engineering & designs.

So, when I arrived in Australia and heard someone talking about the health impacts associated with wind I thought it was a joke. I laughed a literal LOL. But let’s unpack it a bit.

In 2009/10 a couple living in New York State, opposed to wind turbine installations in the area, her with a medical background, started looking into the potential health effects of wind turbines. Nina Pierpont hypothesised that people get sick when they live near a wind farm. Initially this was considered to be linked to ultrasound (high frequency sound), however this later changed to infrasound (20Hz or lower). She coined the phrase ‘Wind Turbine Syndrome’ and wrote a heavily criticised book on the subject. They claim that the book has been peer-reviewed, but I have read that the review team involved her husband (an anti-wind activist), a professor of literature and an ecologist and biologist. Many consider that the book was effectively self-published, and Joshi indicated to me that no journal would accept this study. More of this here.

There is so much written on the bad science used in this study; on the selection bias in play, on the small sample size used, on the dubious methods used to find respondents, on the conclusions reached etc. There is also a lot written about the dangers in writing an un-reviewed and un-interrogated study like this; as poor studies can still become used as a reference (or red herring) in what should be a sound, scientific and thoroughly researched debate.

In Australia, initially the main opposition to wind farms was linked to their visual impact, and opposition was led by landscape guardians who wanted to protect the existing vistas. In 2009/10, when Pierpont began writing about this syndrome, the focus of opposition to wind shifted quite drastically. Health concerns became the primary discourse; something surprising to many people in the industry. This raised the question as to what defines a medical condition, and placed this question at the feet of wind developers, who were alien to the concept.

I raised with Joshi that a responsible industry response would be to take claims of health impacts seriously, on a ‘first do no harm basis’ regardless of the merit of the initial study. He confirmed that the wind industry in Australia was involved in commissioning the first studies, to determine if there was any credence to these claims.

In 2011 a first enquiry was conducted into the impact of wind farms on the health of the local residents. This enquiry makes a number of references to Pierpont’s study, with notes from people criticising and supporting the study’s methodology and findings. Joshi indicated that this enquiry had a strong political thread to it, but what it did do was alert the federal medical and scientific bodies to the issue. Their interest is in determining if there is any credible evidence to support the claims, and they have therefore set out in commissioning research on this.

In Joshi’s view, there are three types of research that you can do:

  1. Conduct an acoustic based investigation. This would check whether there was a) any acoustic emissions that were known to be harmful and b) quantify the level of infrasound emitted by wind farms and compare this to other environments.
  2. Conduct an epidemiological study. This is a long-term study (i.e. a decade), based on a large sample of people. It therefore costs a lot of money, and you wait a while before any conclusive results are available. This raises the question of whether this is the best use of public funds. This question is for the medical authorities to decide on and should be out of political influence. Overhead power lines and mobile phones are other examples of where epidemiological studies have been proposed to determine long-term health impacts.
  3. Carrying out lab based assessments. This involves putting people into a lab and exposing them to the wind turbine noises and selectively exposing people to different levels of infrasound (with controls in place). This is considerably cheaper than option 2, and would possibly help to identify if there is a marked link between a person’s opposition to wind and their stress levels when exposed to wind audible noise and possible infrasound.

One of the questions apparently posed to the wind industry often is ‘if you have nothing to hide, why not do more research.’ Joshi’s concern with this is that it becomes a bit of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. If you support more research, the anti-wind lobby picks this up as admission that there are health impacts. If you don’t support it, you’ve got something to hide. His point is that supporting more research doesn’t mean that you believe the current agreement on the interpretation of results is incorrect and just because it’s good to do more research doesn’t means that an opinion or conclusion is wrong.

It’s difficult to do this type of research in such a heavily politically charged environment.

Finally, we chatted about Canada, and how both Australia and Canada seem to be walking down the same road, one before the other. In Canada, they have just completed a large-scale study (making use of options 1 and 3 above). The methodology was peer-reviewed before the study began. The results were released late last year. The findings? If you can hear the noise and if you’re against the wind farm development, you will experience symptoms of stress. They found no impact from infrasound.

The study has been rejected by the anti-wind farm movement as it was released, saying that the fact that they didn’t find anyone with issues means they didn’t carry out the study properly.

Joshi worries that this is a prediction of what will happen in Australia. No matter how thorough a study, no matter who conducts it, how impartial the investigative body, no matter how large the sample size, or how objective the methodology, findings not in accordance with the ‘wind turbine syndrome’ concept will be rejected outright. If the conclusion has been predetermined, what should the focus of the discussion really be on then?

[Thanks Ketan for your time – follow Ketan on (@KetanJ0). He’s a source of useful info on what’s going on in Australia]

Our Melbourne Tesla adventure

Yesterday we had the awesome opportunity to go for a ride in a Tesla (thanks Matt).

Matt is the proud owner of the second Tesla in Melbourne and is also able to boast being the first Tesla to require repair work after someone drove into him 36 hours after he bought it.  Gulp.

He took us for a drive yesterday, and allowed us to geek out hard.

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Some fun facts:

  • Tesla currently has service stations in all the major cities in Australia
  • There are superchargers in Melbourne (x1) and Sydney (x2) (I didn’t ask about the other cities, but guessing they’re there too)
  • They’re planning on putting in extra superchargers between Melbourne and Sydney so that people can do the drive on both the 85kWh and 65kWh batteries
  • The use of superchargers is FREE so you can therefore get between the two cities without paying a cent (other than the coffees and your time…)
  • The car manages its speed itself.  For about 1km Matt didn’t have to touch any pedal.  There’s a camera that registers speed limit signs, and controls the speed accordingly.  You can choose how many car lengths you want to allow for between you and the car in front of you, and then it’ll mimic that car’s speed.
  • If you come to a red light and the car in front of you stops, it’ll stop, and then it’ll take off again when the car starts.  It can’t yet recognise red lights – so there is some intervention needed then…
  • There is regenerative breaking, and one of the meters on the dashboard shows you when you’re sucking power from the battery, and when you’re putting power back.
  • The car has a 3G sim card, and can connect to wifi.  It automatically downloads system updates.  That means that one day your car may not be able to recognise bicycles and the next it could.  Sky’s the limit.
  • They don’t include a spare tyre, and the tyre’s aren’t run on flat.  BUT if you have a flat, they’ll come and replace the tyre for you.
  • His car typically does about 400km on a single charge.  Costs him about $13 to fully recharge (if he doesn’t use the supercharger).  (For comparison – in our hire car we’ve been spending about $36 for the same kind of distance.)

Finally, I cannot express what the acceleration felt like when the lights change from red to green.  It is literally breathtaking.  Matt says he gets people in blinged up cars trying to take him on at the lights and he just eats them up.

In a country with such harsh speed enforcement, this fits in well.  ACCELERATE LIKE CRAZY, but then ease off at 60km/h. 🙂

Love love love it.

Australia’s renewable energy jobs – recruitment thoughts

A lot of the discussion I’m seeing in the renewables space, defending the RET, has been focusing around job creation. The Clean Energy Council, in their Sep 2014 briefing paper, estimates that any cut to the RET puts around 21,000 jobs at risk.

I spoke to Michael Green briefly this morning, from the Bradman Recruitment Group about renewables jobs in Australia to unpack this issue a little bit more.

The RET has, he says, been quite vital to the establishment of the industry from a jobs perspective. Since Abbott’s government started making noise about the review of the RET, investment in the industry effectively froze, as did recruitment. Business is starting to pick up again. The small scale sector hasn’t been affected, but solar utility scale jobs have been badly affected. Wind not so much.

While RET may have been the trigger for initial growth in this sector, there are other market supporters at the moment, including progress and increasing interest in storage systems and technologies.

What’s important to recognise is that there are jobs created that are not directly attributable to renewable energy, but that these come about through the development of a new sector, such as financial positions. These indirect jobs are harder to quantify, but they are nonetheless buoyed up by a thriving renewables industry.

I mentioned that in South Africa there’s a lot of interest from people in moving from existing sectors (say those working on typical infrastructure projects) into renewables, as it is a vibrant, young and ‘feel-good’ sector, and he agreed that this is also present in Australia. It has, however, been thwarted by unstable messages and plans from government, and he himself has previously cautioned people choosing to enter the field. Now, he feels, there is a bit more stability for people wishing to start a career in renewables. This links with the concern that Muriel Watt expressed when I met with her.

Michael also mentioned that international pressure has a role to play in Australia’s energy future, and the recent messages coming from the Pope regarding climate change could lead to some interesting discussions – particularly given that Abbott is catholic.  An internal conundrum there?

Thank you to Michael for your time this morning.