OPINION

How big batteries are a boon for regional Australia

How big batteries are a boon for regional Australia

Recent announcements that two big batteries will be built at coal-fired power stations in NSW are great news for the energy system and regional communities across Australia.

The batteries will be built by Origin Energy in the Hunter near Newcastle, and by French firm Neoen near Lithgow, around 100km west of Sydney.

They will likely be some of the world's biggest when they're completed, able to power hundreds of thousands of homes.

The billion-dollar investments are a strong sign that when it comes to choosing technology to secure our grid, energy companies see better economic returns from batteries than gas.

These batteries follow new batteries in Victoria and South Australia, where more investments have also been announced.

They further undermine the federal government's push to build a new gas-fired generator in NSW.

This proposal is not only uneconomical but unnecessary as investors are building plenty of renewable energy generation.

This shift away from gas is inevitable, driven by cheap renewables pushing down electricity prices over the past few years.

As more renewables are connected to the grid and coal generators shut down, the business case for batteries will continue to improve. Batteries like these play two important roles in the grid.

They complement renewable energy generation by collecting excess energy, and filling in gaps in generation - for example, at night.

They also provide fast response services to bolster energy security.

This is crucial in NSW, which is home to Australia's oldest fleet of coal-fired power stations that struggle with the summer heat.

Despite their age, coal-fired power stations have good connections to the grid, and it's a smart move to build batteries at these locations to make use of this existing infrastructure.

Big batteries are an example of clean energy jobs increasingly available in historically fossil fuel-reliant regions.

Founded for their proximity to coal reserves, they're now attractive for their proximity to the transmission grid.

This also makes them attractive for wind and solar farms.

The construction, maintenance and management of the two batteries and associated renewable energy projects are bringing hundreds of jobs to areas around Dubbo and the Hunter.

These batteries are a sign of things to come as Australia accelerates to a clean, resilient energy system, with cheaper power, new jobs, and a healthier environment.

As renewable energy flourishes across regional Australia, so too will the potential of batteries and the influx of clean energy jobs.

Dr Bjorn Sturmberg is a research leader in the ANU's Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program.

This story How big batteries are a boon for regional Australia first appeared on The Canberra Times.