Enhancing Grid Battery Capabilities: A Sustainable Answer to Power Demand Peaks

Published by firstgreen on

One of the cornerstones of modern power infrastructure is the ability to handle peak power demands. For a long time, fossil fuel peaking plants, running primarily on diesel or natural gas, have been the go-to solutions for this issue. However, their environmental footprint, mainly in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, leaves much to be desired. This is where the potential of grid batteries comes into play. Recent improvements in battery capabilities and cost-effectiveness make them an increasingly attractive alternative to fossil fuel peaking plants.

Take, for instance, the state of California, which has been steadily replacing gas peakers with battery storage since 2018 (Bade, 2018). A recent study in Australia revealed that 2- and 4-hour batteries are now 30% cheaper (in terms of Levelized Cost of Electricity – LCOE) than equivalent capacity gas peakers (Clean Energy Council, 2021).

In South Africa, the debate regarding the feasibility of batteries replacing peaking plant functionality is ongoing. While independent energy analyst Clyde Mallinson has proposed a strategy focusing on solar, wind, and energy storage as the mainstays of energy supply up to 2040 (Creamer, 2021), most power system models still advocate for a mix of new battery and peaking plant capacity to supplement renewable energy sources.

Debates aside, the value of introducing grid batteries into a system without any storage is undeniable. Without storage, peaking plants will need to be used extensively. The more the system operator can utilize energy storage to meet peak demand, the less need there will be to run peaking plants. Grid batteries thus have an integral role to play in reducing fossil fuel use in peaking plants in South Africa, and the extent of this reduction will only become clearer as battery and grid technologies continue to evolve.

Moreover, grid batteries are central to many strategies aiming for 100% renewable energy systems. Although there is no consensus in South Africa on the technical feasibility and cost-effectiveness of fully renewable-electricity systems (Brown et al., 2018), the real-world examples where most electricity needs can already be met by a combination of renewables and energy storage serve as compelling evidence of the value of prioritizing investments in energy storage.

In conclusion, while other technologies like synchronous condensers may be more suitable for specific functions or under certain conditions, the promise of grid batteries in transforming our power systems is undeniable. By effectively replacing fossil fuel peaking plants and providing a myriad of other services, they could be the key to unlocking a truly sustainable future for South Africa and beyond.

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