Rapid battery rollout poses emission risk

Grid-linked batteries operating on the best settings for financial rewards might make commercial sense but could also power up greenhouse gas emissions.

Research by the battery storage and grid integration program at the Australian National University has warned of the emissions trade-off in the short-term.

The paper published in the journal Energy Policy recommends the federal government provide system-wide carbon incentives to encourage battery charging and discharge during particular time periods.

“We know we need battery storage and it’s really important long-term,” researcher Louise Bardwell told AAP.

“But a battery isn’t necessarily going to be charging off wind or solar, it can charge off anything in the grid – and at times that will probably be black coal.”

Ms Bardwell warned Australian governments are jumping on the battery bandwagon without thinking carefully about their placement and use.

“It may charge up when it’s cheaper and discharge when hydro or something else is operating at the margins – that’s technically what it’s displacing,” she said.

Energy storage could play a significant role in Australia’s emissions reduction targets of 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050.

Changing to more generation of wind and solar requires a way to store energy when there’s more than the electricity grid needs in order to use it at another time when energy is scarce.

Batteries come in different sizes: big, neighbourhood-sized and smaller behind-the-meter home systems.

The Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia was the world’s first big battery.

Surpassing it, the Victorian Big Battery operated by Neoen can store enough energy to power more than one million homes for 30 minutes.

Queensland is the latest to emerge as a potential battery industry leader, putting up $500 million to invest in commercial-scale and community batteries accompanied by a push for local manufacturing.

The Albanese Government has also committed to the rollout of 400 community batteries in neighbourhoods across the country for more affordable and secure solar power.

But Ms Bardwell said she wants governments to think through all the implications of a large-scale battery rollout.

“They’ve become this ‘solve anything’ solution – they sound really fancy, a cool piece of tech, so people want to throw them in everywhere,” she said.

In an area with a lot of household solar, batteries could be positive for energy use and cutting emissions.

But in an area without solar, it’s not necessarily sensible to put a battery in.

The ANU researchers examined national electricity market data from 2013 to 2021 for their study.

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