Hornsdale Power Reserve, Insights from the AES 2018 Tour

Written by Mary Hendriks, on June 21, 2018

Why did a bus load of people from across the world take the five hour round trip from Adelaide in South Australia to visit a site called the Hornsdale Power Reserve?   What was the attraction of the tour to this site, located 15 km north of the small village of Jamestown?

On site at the Hornsdale Power Reserve

This tour was organised for delegates of the Australian Energy Storage conference in Adelaide on 22 May 2018.  The tour group visited the Hornsdale Power Reserve, a 100MW/129MWh lithium ion battery storage installation, built by Tesla and commissioned by the Government of South Australia to provide network security services for South Australian electricity consumers.  The battery site is paired with the 309MW Hornsdale Wind Farm, developed in 2017 by French energy developer Neoen, using Siemens Direct Drive wind turbines.   As a representative of the conference organisers, I participated in this tour the day prior to the two-day conference and exhibition in Adelaide.

This tour was in two parts; the first was to walk under the massive 90m high turbines of the Hornsdale Wind Farm and view the power generated by the 55m long turbine blades. The second part was to be taken through the energy storage site where rows of the lithium ion batteries are located. 

But a bus load of engineers, developers, researchers, energy specialists and industry leaders did not come all this way just to see crates full of batteries several hours outside of the South Australian Capital city.  They came to see what the construction and operation of the Hornsdale Power Reserve represents.

As a global community that survives and thrives on technology, we see many incremental changes in our lives, but only very rarely is there a major and highly visible break through – a revolution in agriculture, the discovery of a life-changing new medicine, a landing on another planet.  These leaps are based on years of work, but can happen quickly, changing the paradigm.

The installation of the Tesla battery at the Hornsdale Power Reserve represented for the energy sector, one of those leaps.  Built of a size and in a location that demonstrates the potential of fast response energy storage for an energy network with a high percentage of renewable energy, the operation is now providing services into National Electricity Market. This battery storage system showcases a powerful tool for our energy future to develop around decentralised power generation.

As with many ideas, this began with failure, and that was the failure of the electricity grid to provide the power to South Australia during several major electricity black-outs.  The concept of such a large battery storage installation was engaging from the very beginning, with the idea being born on twitter, gaining momentum and then resulting in a challenge to be constructed and operational within 100 days.  The construction of this largest lithium-ion battery storage system engaged the world – it became a topic of discussion, and the clean energy sector in Australia held its collective breath, while politicians offered their various views on the project.

There were challenges, too many to list here, with distance being one. The batteries were built in California and delivered to Adelaide, then made the long drive, the journey we also took, to the site near Jamestown.  The area is farming country but it is remote, and there needed to be coordination with the local residential and farming community, traditional land owners, fire services and of course, with the Australian planning and energy regulatory bodies. 

As the site came together, and the December deadline drew closer, there was celebration by Tesla and their project partners – celebration of this enormous leap, the leap of size, the leap of the remote location, and the leap in our collective knowledge about the role of energy storage to provide frequency response and ancillary services in distributed energy generation.   Owners of Tesla vehicles were invited to meet Elon Musk, who flew in for the official opening, and electric vehicle charging was installed for the event using the resources of the site.

We, however, came by conventional bus, six months after the site’s first grid interaction.  The group comprised of almost 50 people, from all over the world, all keen to take this unique opportunity to visit the site.  There was an overall buzz in the bus going to the site, and a general feeling of elation on the almost 2.5 hour return journey.  

The installation of this utility scale battery storage demonstrated to the group, and to the world that a battery system of this size can be built almost anywhere in the world in a remarkably short period of time.  The operation since installation has shown that utility scale battery storage can contribute valuable power services to an energy market.

In this visit to the wind farm and battery site, the group saw a truly international project that involved passionate people from across the planet, who came together to achieve this leap forward in the way we manage power. 

As part of this tour group, I have stood there, on the windy hill between the turbines, looking down at the plains and the Hornsdale Power Reserve site.  I have walked in the rows, between the batteries, and heard the stories from those who had built this next leap of technology.  The visit to this world leading site was a unique experience, and a privilege for me.   This was a story to share – a story of inspiration –  the construction and operation in South Australia of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery storage site called the Hornsdale Power Reserve.

By Mary Hendriks, Industry Executive, Australian Energy Storage Alliance, with thanks to the on-site tour leaders from Tesla, Neoen and Siemens for their hospitality on the tour day.