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Alinta Deploys Australia's Largest Industrial Lithium-ion BESS

Australian utility and energy services provider Alinta recently deployed the largest, industrial lithium-ion battery-based energy storage system (LiBESS) in the nation. Partnering with EPC contractor UGL Pty, advanced LiB energy storage manufacturer and systems integrator Kokam and microgrid control systems provider ABB Australia, the 30MW/11.4MW LiBESS has been purpose-designed and integrated with 178MW of open-cycle, natural gas turbine power generation to deliver high-power electrical energy to one, possibly more, iron ore mining operations in Western Australia's Pilbara region. 

The utility-scale natural gas generation-LiBESS power platform is able to respond practically instantaneously to changing generation and operating conditions. That's primarily due to installation of Kokam's UHP NMC (Ultra High Power Nickel Manganese Cobalt) batteries. Designed to  provide high power energy for short periods, the advanced UHP NMC-based BESS serves as a more efficient and less costly source of spinning reserve capacity, which enhances the reliability and overall quality of energy services Alinta delivers to mining operations via the Newman Power Station.

South Korea's Kokam entered the Australian market about four years ago. Having previously deployed a cumulative total LiBESS power capacity of some 10-12MW, Alinta's 36MW LiBESS is by far the largest and most powerful it has installed to date, Ike Hong, vice president of Kokam's Power Solutions Division, told Energy Central. 

Australia's utilities and battery-based energy storage technology

Comparing Kokam's UHB NMC LiB to those offered by other manufacturers looking to develop projects in Australia's dynamic power and energy sector Hong said: “Tesla and Samsung's LiBs are used widely for renewables integration or 'blackout' applications, but you really need a high-power, short-term duration solution when it comes to applications in the mining and offshore sectors. Our LiBs fit very well in those contexts,” he explained in an interview.

Utilities and other “behind the meter” LiBESS end users need to take the time to fully define their needs and expectations, as well as come to understand in detail the design of a system capable of meeting them before issuing tenders or requests for proposals, Hong said. Doing so results in a minimal system design, in terms of size and scale, yet one optimized for specific uses. It also raises the likelihood of a smooth deployment and a lower total cost of ownership, he added.

“Utilities are getting smarter and smarter, by which I mean they understand the value of a high-power battery energy storage solution. Alinta knew they needed a high-power, short-duration, as opposed to a long-duration, system,” Hong said. 

Integrated with a wind power farm, Tesla's 100MW LiBESS – the largest deployed worldwide – is proving its worth in South Australia. Yet, all else being equal, Tesla would have had to deliver an LiBESS with an energy capacity of 40MWh -- four times greater -- to equal the power capacity of Kokam's UHP NMC up and running at the Newman Power Station, Hong pointed out. “So let's assume Kokam's solution is a bit more expensive in terms of dollars per kilowatt-hour. They [Alinta] would still need four times more battery.”

Kokam's UHP LiNMC BESS at Alinta's Newman Power Station 

Alinta's Newman Power Station amounts to a utility-scale, industrial microgrid dedicated to delivering reliable, cost-effective energy to the new Roy Hill iron ore mine at present. All told, the power plant can put out some 178MW of usable, electrical power, more than enough to meet Roy Hill's needs. 

“We run four open-cycle gas turbine generators at various, different times of the day, that deliver power over a reasonably long, 220kV transmission line to Roy Hill, a new iron ore mine in the Pilbara region,” Ken Woolley, Alinta's executive director of merchant energy, explained in part one of this two-part series.

Alinta is using the integrated LiBESS as a spinning reserve. It's a substantial improvement as compared to running additional natural gas turbine generation in terms of efficiency, operating costs and overall quality of power generation, transmission and distribution across Newman Power Station's service network, Woolley explained in part one.

“The batteries can discharge up to 30MW of power instantly and maintain grid quality. A gas turbine would require 15 minutes to ramp up,” he said. 

“They [the LiBs] are always on standby and always on-charge. We expect one to two gas turbine trip events during the course of a year, so the batteries will fully discharge during those times. In theory, they should last for 10,000 full-discharge cycles over their life cycle, but this is a particular, high-power type of battery. It's different than that used for grid frequency regulation, for instance.” 

With surplus generating capacity, Alinta aims to sign up additional iron ore mine operators to off-take energy from the upgraded power plant. “What's really important is having the capacity to deliver highly reliable, high-quality power in sufficient quantity without compromising our original, or other, customer needs,” he added. 

Moving up the LiBESS learning curve

Alinta issued an expression of interest for a LiBESS that could work in tandem with and enhance the performance of the Newman Power Station a couple of years ago. “We wanted to discover suppliers globally and learn as much as we could about manufacturers' particular skill sets,” Woolley said. 

Some 15 manufacturers responded. “We decided on lithium-ion technology and then decided Kokam's technology and approach would probably suit our application quite well,” Woolley elaborated. 

“We didn't have a lot of real estate, so the 10, 20-foot containers [which house Kokam's UHP NMC systems] plus the necessary augmentation of the power station is quite compact. And of course there were the overall skills, experience and extensive capabilities the company has as a result of installing similar infrastructure in South Korea.” 

Kokam was also charged with the systems integration work associated with the project. Perhaps most significantly, that included working closely with ABB Australia to integrate the latter's Virtual Storage microgrid controller with its UHP NMC BESS. “They worked very well together to deliver what amounted to a turnkey project,” Woolley commented. 

Looking ahead, Alinta sees other opportunities to deploy LiB energy storage. “We have other, similar power stations, one slightly bigger in Port Hedland, so we see an opportunity to carry out a project there,” Woolley explained. 

The Pilbara region is known globally for its high solar energy resource potential, so Alinta also sees opportunities to combine LiB energy storage with solar power generation in the region as well. That could be combined with the utility's natural gas power generation assets to provide a highly reliable, resilient and cost-effective energy services solution that operates 24x7x365, Woolley pointed out. 

“We probably would not use solar PV and storage as a standalone solution, but rather as a supplement, to augment existing natural gas power generation. We might use solar energy to charge the batteries and dispatch power when cloud cover moves in, for example, as well as to smooth out dispatch of variable solar power generaton during daytime hours,” he explained.

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