Tasmanian solution hits the national stage

14 November 2017

The word is out.

Tasmania has the natural advantages and renewable head-start to lead the way.

We can lead the way in solving Australia’s energy challenge. And we can do it in a way that boosts the hip pockets of Tasmanians, and the confidence of Tasmanian industry.

Battery of the Nation is about locking in our island’s energy security and giving Tasmanians the lowest possible power prices.

It would double Tasmania’s clean energy capacity to 5,000 megawatts by developing pumped hydro energy storage, attracting more private wind farms, and upgrading our current hydro assets.

Early modelling shows Battery of the Nation would create up to $5 billion of investment and 3,000 jobs in regional Tasmania over 10 to 15 years.

It will largely revolve around existing assets (a huge advantage), completely avoid the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and meet the highest environmental and social standards.

And as a happy bonus, Battery of the Nation would give Tasmania plenty of spare clean energy to support mainland Australia as it weans off fossil fuels. Because we know mainlanders love depending on us.

Two developments have just shifted Battery of the Nation from a Tasmanian ambition to a national opportunity.

Firstly – it’s been nominated for Infrastructure Australia’s Priority List, putting it firmly on the radar of the nation’s main infrastructure funding body.

IA is charged with fixing national problems, both present and future. And the energy challenges we’re trying to address are about as big as they come.

Tasmania’s energy opportunity, including Battery of the Nation, is one of three initiatives nominated by the Tasmanian Government, along with Hobart light rail and Future Irrigation.

Battery of the Nation is still at the scoping and feasibility stage, and doesn’t yet need development funding. But it’s a big advantage to be among IA’s priorities when it’s time to build.

The submission to Infrastructure Australia also highlights the need for more interconnection to fulfil Tasmania’s potential, unlock more wind investment, and bring Battery of the Nation to life. There’s little point having a nation-saving solution if we can’t get our product to market.

The current lone Basslink cable and transmission system have limited capacity, which constrains the potential for more renewable development in Tasmania.

Hydro Tasmania and others are modelling more Bass Strait interconnection, but the business would not own or build it. That’s why a major funding body like Infrastructure Australia could be crucial, along with private interest.

We believe the case for more interconnection is only getting stronger. Tasmanians have nothing to fear from it, and much to gain.

More interconnection will be a market signal that Tasmania’s clean energy capacity is growing to the point where our own security is beyond assured, and the rest of Australia can benefit from our wealth of surplus electricity.

Secondly – early modelling under Battery of the Nation is extremely bright for Tasmania.

Our existing hydropower system, pumped hydro potential, and excellent wind conditions give us a huge advantage in the race to provide the reliable, large-scale, dispatchable generation Australia is badly going to need.

Pumped hydro energy storage is a proven technology for storing lots of clean energy over a long period, and using it to balance the system as demand fluctuates. Tasmania already has the hydropower platform, ready for the pumped hydro add-on – which is rare in Australia.

We also have some of the best wind power conditions, according to early studies. Tasmania already has world-class wind farms, and many more prospective sites. And we can generate wind power at different times of the day to other states, which is critical for smoothing out supply.

Pumped hydro itself will make private wind investment much more attractive, because the two systems complement each other.

When the wind is blowing but demand is low (eg. at night), you can use the surplus wind power to pump water back into storage. When there’s not enough wind or sunshine (solar), the pumped hydro system makes up the shortfall, like a battery balancing peaks and troughs.

ARENA has been exceptional in supporting Battery of the Nation. The agency has so far committed up to $2.5 million across the three Battery of the Nation project studies (pumped hydro, system upgrades, and NEM “Future State”), with funding to be matched by Hydro Tasmania.

The Battery of the Nation team, including myself, are currently getting out and discussing the initiative with Tasmanian communities.

Despite the title, Battery of the Nation is only viable if it’s positive for Tasmanians.

That starts with an energy supply that’s well beyond secure, and the supply power to give Tasmanians the lowest possible power prices. Not to mention the pride of knowing that mainland Australians are relying on Tasmania’s clean energy leadership and production.

The potential for Tasmania is vast. The national conversation is just beginning.

Chris Gwynne
Battery of the Nation Project Director – Hydro Tasmania

This opinion-editorial first appeared in the Mercury newspaper on Saturday 11 November.