The Interview: Franck Woitiez

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 05 Feb 2018   Posted by admin

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All images: Neoen Australia.


THE energy industry has been closely following the performance of the new South Australian Hornsdale Power Reserve; home to the largest lithium ion battery in the world and Neoen’s 129 megawatt (MW) windfarm.  

It’s been more than two months since US tech giant Tesla flipped the switch on the 100 MW mega battery, which has allowed wind energy to be delivered to the grid at any time –whether the wind is blowing or not – and provide emergency back-up power when shortfalls are predicted. We spoke with Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez about the world-first project and their next big collaboration with the global tech giant.


Q. How does the new Hornsdale Power Reserve work?

Hornsdale Power Reserve is the world’s largest lithium-ion battery.

In conjunction with the Hornsdale Wind Farm, it provides reliable power into the South Australian electricity network during peak times, with frequency control services to maintain stability, acting as a lifeguard for our power network.

It is designed to enhance network security and keep the lights on during unexpected events.

The battery instantly reacts whenever there are unexpected line outages or generator failures.

This provides the network operator with valuable time to rebalance the system and return to normal operation without any disruption to electricity users.

As well as breaking records for its size, Hornsdale Power Reserve has set a new Australian record for the construction and connection time of a large generator, and is the fastest generator in Australia in terms of response times.


Q. The idea for the battery first started during a Twitter exchange between Tesla’s Elon Musk, and software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes. How did this idea become a reality?

Following the Twitter exchange, the South Australian Government launched a competitive tender to supply up to 100MW of batteries across the South Australian power network.

The procurement process attracted around 90 responses from battery storage manufacturers, including LG Chem, AES and Kokam, and developers such as Zen Energy, Carnegie Clean Energy, and AGL Energy.

Hornsdale Power Reserve was selected as the most competitive commercial offer with the best value for money.

The biggest challenge we faced during the project was the very tight timeline.

It was essential to have the battery operational by December, when the electricity network was expected to encounter substantial strain due to summer heat.




Q. In December when Loy Yang power plant tripped and went offline, the battery delivered 100MW into the national energy grid in 140 milliseconds. How does this response time compare to energy storage options previously relied on?

In its first month of operation, the Hornsdale Power Reserve has already responded to four coal generator trips.

The battery has a proportional response depending on how bad the frequency deviation is. So, it is ready to provide 100 MW during catastrophic events but will only deliver smaller amounts during smaller frequency deviations.

The battery’s response time is significantly faster than that of a typical generator, which will usually respond in a meaningful way within a few seconds.

That might not sound like much, but every millisecond counts in a network that operates at fifty cycles per second.


Q. Why did the Tesla battery respond to the power plant trip when not contracted?

The battery is contracted by the South Australian Government to correct frequency deviations in the South Australian network.

Because the National Electricity Market is connected, large interstate plant trips affect the South Australian network frequency.

The very fast response time of the battery means that it instantly steps in when it’s needed. It essentially fills the gap (for a few seconds, or minutes) while the traditional back-up generators in the network ramp up their power output.

Q. While the project has received major praise, opponents argue the battery is small in the context of the National Energy Market or the proposed Snowy Hydro 2.0 project. How do you respond to this and what are some of the benefits that aren’t as widely understood?

Energy generation makes up approximately one third of your average electricity bill.

Other charges such as transmission and distribution costs, and many other costs are passed through to electricity consumers.

There are eight markets for Frequency Control and Ancillary Services (FCAS) and it would appear that the battery is already having a big effect on these—and of course benefits are already flowing to the network beyond South Australia.

Hydro power in Australia, including the Snowy scheme, has a proud history of innovation and engineering achievement, and it would be great to see these systems developed further.

It is also very clear that grid scale batteries have a role to play in the Australian network in order to reduce costs for electricity consumers and improve system security.


Q. Will the battery also reduce the estimated $52 million South Australia pays for services to keep the grid in balance?

While we can’t fully attribute the savings to Hornsdale Power Reserve alone, South Australia’s regulation FCAS bill was reduced by 80 per cent in December 2017 when compared to the same month in 2016.


Q. Are Neoen and Tesla planning another project of this scale elsewhere in Australia or abroad?

Yes, the Victorian Government has recently announced a 15-year support agreement for the Bulgana Green Power Hub, which combines a large smart-glasshouse facility with a 200MW wind farm and 34MWh battery.

We are also considering large batteries on all our new renewable projects under development across Australia—hopefully there will be some further announcements over the coming year.


Q. What does the 2018 year hold for Neoen Australia?

2017 was a big year for Neoen Australia.

Alongside the Hornsdale Power Reserve we also completed two wind farms (Hornsdale stages 2 and 3) and three solar farms (Parkes, Griffith and Dubbo).

In 2018 we will start construction on Bulgana Green Power Hub and at least two other solar farms, the Coleambally Solar Farm in NSW and the Numurkah Solar Farm in VIC. We are also looking at new technology for hydrogen production from renewable energy and expanding the network service capability of large scale battery technologies.

We are looking forward to another big year of growth in the Australian electricity sector, and will continue to do our best to supply affordable and reliable power to Australian consumers.

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