SYDNEY, Australia — Technologies are proliferating here to enable renewables to provide energy long after the wind stopped blowing or the sun stopped shining.
Why it matters: Figuring out a way to store energy is essential to getting huge amounts of electricity from wind and solar — a goal of the backers of the Green New Deal and a critical piece of the broader puzzle for tackling climate change.
Driving the news: Australia’s current political leadership, whose positions are similar to American conservatives, earlier this year backed a project that would pump huge amounts of water up a hill to use as a backup energy option.
- Called "pumped hydro," this decades-old technology is the most common way to store energy, though it's a far less high-profile way than batteries.
Meanwhile, Tesla is testing technologies here after building the world’s largest battery 2 years ago to address regional blackouts in South Australia. That feat was accomplished in less than 100 days at the tweet order of CEO Elon Musk.
“Australia presents opportunities to model out what the future is going to look like because it has high amounts of solar and gives us a chance to show what storage can do at those high levels of penetration.” — Lara Olsen, Tesla executive on energy storage
The big picture: About two-thirds of the world’s electricity is from steady power from fossil fuels, led by natural gas and coal. That is changing as costs for wind and solar fall. In some places, like the U.S. and Australia, these resources are replacing fossil fuels.
Where it stands: Australia doesn’t have a lot of flexible natural gas electricity, like America does, but wind and solar are rapidly increasing here. That creates opportunities — and challenges — to integrate the variable resources into a power system dominated by coal.
- Pumped hydro is by far the most common way energy is stored around the world today.
- But battery technology is forecast to be the most popular way to store energy in the future as demand grows.
- Storage technologies require government subsidies in most places, but that’s changing as costs drop and climate policies ramp up.
What they're saying: “The good thing about batteries is you can deploy them tactically in any location and at very small scale,” former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a recent interview.
- “With pumped hydro, you’re limited by topography and environmental and planning restrictions.”
- But, Turnbull added: “It’s the only way presently that you can store very large amounts of energy.”