A property with red dirt, mountains in the background, and a rainbow rising out from the horizon.

Technology first discovered at the University of NSW in the 1980s will be “coming home” on an industrial scale, with Australia’s Renewable Energy Agency backing construction of the country’s first utility-scale vanadium flow battery in outback South Australia.

The federal agency has granted the project nearly $6 million, saying the technology could “play a major role” in addressing Australia’s need for increased “heavy-duty” energy storage as renewable energy generation increases.

ARENA chief executive Darren Miller said flow batteries complemented “the role of more established technologies such as pumped hydro energy storage and lithium-ion batteries in the Australian market”.

The battery technology stores energy as a liquid energy electrolyte, separating the energy storage from the power generation, meaning it does “not degrade like lithium-ion batteries”, according to the agency.

Matt Harper of Invinity Energy Systems, which is supplying the project’s batteries, said the technology’s use of electrolytes enabled it to store large amounts of energy for longer.

“Because we’re storing the energy in that liquid flowing component, we can very easily store many, many hours of storage all at once,” he said.

“Then we can provide that four to six hours of energy that people need in the evening, providing clean energy on demand.

“You end up with a technology that can serve the grid for decades on end, [without] that degradation that you see in a conventional lithium battery.”

A picture of what looks like multiple shipping containers, inside a fenced area.
Vanadium flow batteries like the ones set to be attached to a new solar farm in outback South Australia.(Supplied: Yadlamalka Energy)

Store at midday, pump out at 7pm

Yadlamalka Energy chairman Andrew Doman, whose property near Hawker in SA’s central outback will house the $20.3 million project, said he was drawn to the technology because of SA’s historic issues with grid stability and reliability.

“The real problem in SA, as it is in any country that relies on a lot of renewable energy, is not the capture of energy [but] how you store it, and how you time shift that solar energy from the middle of the day to the evenings,” he said.

Mr Doman said the demonstration project would co-locate a 2-megawatt vanadium flow battery, with 15,000 solar panels.

He said the technology could be a game-changer for existing renewable generators.

A father and son stand in the outback in front of sign that says "Beltana".
Andrew Doman, with son Alex, at their Flinders Ranges property, which will house the new energy facility.(Supplied)

“What all the solar farms realise is the price they earn for electricity at midday, when the sun is shining mostly, is relatively low, and they all wish they could be producing electricity at night, when the price is three to four times what it is at midday,” he said.

“For anyone who has a solar farm, who would like to retrofit these batteries, we will help them.”

Technology ‘coming home’

Mr Doman said he was excited for construction to begin on his Yadlamalka property, which had been in his family for more than a century, at the beginning of next year.

He said it was particularly exciting that the project’s flow battery technology was originally discovered by University of NSW researchers in the 1980s.

A homestead on a rural property beneath moody clouds.
A 2MW flow battery and 15,000 solar panels will be located at Yadlamalka.(Supplied: Ann Doman)

“It’s used worldwide, [but] it’s an Australian discovery and invention,” he said.

He said he hoped it led to a proliferation of the technology around the country.

“This is a demonstration project for how you provide medium-term, medium-duration battery storage into the grid,” he said.

The Marshall Liberal Government this year committed to SA running on 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030 and has helped drive a push for greater grid stability.

Earlier this year, the state and federal governments helped expand SA’s Hornsdale Tesla battery by 50 per cent.

www.abc.net.au