What blackout? Home batteries power through Queensland coal plant calamity

The massive network outages across Queensland on Tuesday afternoon triggered by an explosion and fire at the Callide coal plant have raised the question of whether more grid-scale big battery storage on the National Electricity Market could have changed the outcome.

But for many households in the state, the benefits of small-scale battery storage paired with rooftop solar were made crystal clear during the crisis.

Social media platforms have lit up with the experiences of Queenslanders who powered through the coal plant calamity using their solar charged home batteries, some of them reporting that they didn’t even notice what was going on until they heard from anxious neighbours.

“There will no doubt be much analysis to come of today’s power system events in Queensland and the implications for the future,” wrote Andrew Wilson on LinkedIn, the director of energy and renewables at KPMG and the former head of energy and sustainability at the University of Queensland.

“At the local level though, it provided the first real test for the backup functionality of my home solar + battery system (Tesla Powerwall 2), which performed flawlessly!”

Jeremy Mansfield, the national sustainability operations manager and regional sustainability manager QLD/NT at Lend Lease, responded to Wilson’s comment with his own success story and Powerwall “back-up history” screenshot:

“Household didn’t know there was an outage until the neighbours were [complaining] of being out…. I had it on self-powered mode anyway, so house wasn’t using the grid. At other times, looking fwd to energy trading on peak pricing, to help quickly pay off battery 😀.”

Patrick Matweew, the CEO of Australian battery company Redback Technologies said that the coal plant-related outage on Tuesday had resulted in a spike in feedback from satisfied Queensland customers – including one in the state’s south-east who had a storage system installed just two weeks ago.

Matweew said not all Redback battery customers opted to have the in-built back-up capability of their systems enabled – for those who do, there is a small extra cost for some extra wiring work. But he told One Step that the company was seeing a trend towards more people choosing to have back-up, alongside another trend towards home battery systems with greater storage capacity, averaging at around the 10kWh mark.

“People talk about batteries being expensive, and these are the classical objections, but you can build a strong case that there is value in batteries, and one of these … especially in more rural areas, is the fact that when you don’t have a stable grid or you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, there is an inherent benefit … that is invaluable.”

Matweew said the natural disaster case was demonstrated last month in Western Australia when Tropical Cyclone Seroja made landfall on the evening of April 11 and left over 30,000 households without power. In that case, he said, the Redback office heard from a number of customers about how their batteries had performed.

“There were literally people running cables from their homes to help the neighbours,” he told One Step. “One customer told us, ‘hey guys, just had the greatest experience ever, I was watching the footy and the whole street was in the dark and they all knocked on my door because they saw the light was on.’ And of course, they’re all very proud and share that with us.

“I think there is a great benefit in getting people to actually collaborate in the electricity system. Before they were just customers, they’d be sent the bill. Now, with a battery, and especially when you start thinking about the aggregation and control that is being discussed in the industry, I think there is a great opportunity to involve people.

“Once they’re involved and they’re respected I think they do care … more about how the grid is actually operated and run as an active stakeholder and I think that is what we need to make that transition from the old [centralised] system to a flexible, decentralised system,” he said.

And home battery owners in Queensland weren’t the only ones crowing about the performance of their behind the meter assets. We came across one prominent Sydney home battery owner who shared their experience of using solar and storage to skirt the high electricity prices resulting from the major system event.

Originally published on onestepoffthegrid.com.au