It is hard to imagine that something as mundane as a battery could make national headlines, but that is what happened last week in Australia. I was there for a family visit and as much as climate science gets debated in the media (see my previous post), it barely rates against the energy debate that has dominated the Australian headlines in recent months. The issue is the cost of electricity and the reliability of supply, both of which continue to be contentious subjects.

The cost of electricity has risen sharply in Australia over the last two years, but this has been coupled with supply problems that have led to blackouts in some parts of the country. This has been most visible in South Australia, which has closed all its coal fired power plants and invested heavily in renewable energy. The result is a wind / solar / natural gas power mix, backed up by an inter-connector with Victoria. For the most part this has been a workable solution, but when particular conditions coincide the result can mean blackouts or load shedding by some industrial customers. This usually involves periods of high load coinciding with low renewable energy availability at a time when some other part of the network is under stress, e.g. supply from the inter-connector. The problem is that this has happened enough times to become a major issue, leading to extensive media coverage, finger pointing and public outcry.

The reporting around this issue can be likened to the climate science debate I discussed in my last post – i.e. overly prone to hyperbole and lacking in basic facts. The solution that has been proposed for South Australia is the rapid construction of battery storage and into this foray stepped Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla). Some months ago, after power supply problems in South Australia hit the headlines yet again, he made the offer to build a major Lithium-Ion storage facility in 100 days, with no payment required if construction was delayed beyond that period. Not surprisingly this galvanized the government and led to a public tender for such a facility.

Last week the South Australia government announced that Tesla had won a tender to build a grid scale battery. The project will incorporate a 100MW peak output battery with 129 megawatt hours of storage alongside an existing windfarm, near Jamestown. Elon Musk flew into Adelaide for the announcement, which added to the fervour. What was interesting was the reaction in the media, ranging from support bordering on adulation to downright condemnation. Contrast the July 9th Sun-Herald, where their social commentator Peter Fitzsimons noted;

Oh, how sweet it is. After all the haters, all the pile-ons, all the craven dinosaur politics which maintains that coal really does have a future, the SA government shimmies, shakes, steps left, steps right, bursts through into clear and announces its lithium battery deal.

. . . with political commentator Tim Blair in the Daily Telegraph on July 10th, who starts a near full page article with the headlines;

Charge of the left brigade – People are falling over themselves to fawn over magic man Elon Musk’s battery absurdity but he is just the latest saviour to get the green light from eco worriers.

Neither are energy commentators of any note, but such is state of the energy transition debate in Australia that this doesn’t seem to matter. The controversy highlights the need for clear policy and thoughtful steps forward in implementing an energy transition, irrespective of the reasons driving such a transition, be they climate change, energy costs, local air quality or some combination of these and other needs.

In the case of South Australia, exuberance and some technology bias led to a rapid shift in the electricity system to a point where stability became a problem, which will now take some time to correct. The battery solution isn’t a full solution at all, but one of several measures that will be required to correct the imbalance that has been created. Alongside the Musk excitement, there was also the recent announcement that the government will build additional gas fired generation capacity at a cost of over A$300 million.

The South Australian electricity system operates at around 2-3 GW, with peaks and troughs depending on the time of day and year. Annual demand is some 14,400 GWh, or about 40,000 MWh per day. The initial battery capacity is 129 MWh. The gas capacity can add over 5,000 MWh per day if it operates continuously, or 13% of the demand. While the battery commanded all the headlines, it is clearly not a solution for extended periods of high demand or reduced supply, given that it can hold only 5 minutes of South Australian demand. However, it is an important step in the quest for a more balanced system that has very high levels (often >70%) of intermittent renewable energy. Further battery systems are likely, but a better balance between natural gas and renewable energy would appear to be the more achievable outcome in the short to medium term. It is also likely to be the more cost efficient outcome, given the ~A$100 million investment required (according to a local private source) for what will be the largest Lithium-Ion battery system in the world.

New lecture series highlights the political, technological, financial, socio-economic, commercial, and regional challenges for a future powered by renewables.

Starting this autumn and continuing into 2018,  IRENA and the “Sustainable Development in International Cooperation” coordination unit of the University of Bonn have organised a lecture series that will analyse and discuss the political, technological, financial, socioeconomic, commercial and regional challenges of a renewable energy powered future.

Covering topics ranging from innovation in renewables to improving energy access on islands, lectures will elaborate on the role of innovation in the transformation of the energy sector, highlighting concrete examples of exciting innovations that may become climate game changers.

IRENA will share its costs work and its outlook on future competitiveness of key renewable energy technologies, including preliminary results from its upcoming analysis on projected costs and performance of battery electricity storage technologies to 2030.

The Agency will outline bioenergy potential in the context of a recently released briefing paper on Bioenergy for Sustainable Development. Key findings from published and ongoing IRENA publications on the power sector transformation cluster and project facilitation, particularly renewable energy project development overview modelling techniques, will also be presented.

A lecture focused on planning long-term transition paths for a high share of variable renewable energy, will explore planning to overcome operational bottlenecks and the role of storage in the integration of variable renewable energy into a power system.

A schedule of the lectures can be found below.

Event Date Lecturers
Energy Transition 12 October 2017 Dr. Dolf Gielen (Director) and Mr. Luis Janeiro (Programme Officer), IRENA
Planning for the Transformation of the Power Systems 26 October 2017 Dr. Asami Miketa (Programme Officer) and Francisco Gafaro (Program Officer), IRENA
Energy Access and Islands 9 November 2017 Emanuele Taibi (Programme Officer) / Peter Journeay-Kaler (Associate Programme Officer), IRENA
Approaches to Sustainable Bioenergy 23 November 2017 Jeffrey Skeer (Senior Programme Officer), IRENA
Improving Energy Access with Renewable Energy Project Facilitation 7 December 2017 Prof. Dr. Roland Roesch (Senior Programme Officer) and Simon Benmarraze (Analyst), IRENA
Innovation Driving the Energy Sector Transformation 21 December 2017 Francisco Boshell (Programme Officer) and Prof. Dr. Roland Roesch (Senior Programme Officer), IRENA
The True Costs of Renewables 25 January 2018 Michael Taylor (Senior Analyst), IRENA

All events will take place from 18:00 to 20:00 in Lecture Hall III of the University of Bonn’s Main Building. To attend, please register via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or through the online form at

After one year of operation, THEnergy analyzed the SMA Fuel Save Solution located on Sint Eustatius and summarized its performance in one word “excellent.”

After one year of operation, it was time to have a look at the outcomes. Were estimations about the performance of the system accurate? Did the system perform as well as it should? Did the wear and tear on the components match expectations? To answer these questions, SMA Sunbelt asked Thomas Hillig to analyze how the system performed.

The hybrid system’s performance in numbers


A hybrid system’s performance is determined by simulations, which rely on assumptions being made. These assumptions are usually forecasts that, from looking at the past, estamet what the conditions will be like in the future.

A great impact on plant performance is caused by irradiation as it defines how much energy the solar system is able to deliver. The past year was not the sunniest one, which explains why the analysis shows an irradiation of 4.9% less than the forecast.
It is also important to consider consumption, as the overall system performance and savings increase the more energy from solar can directly be used. However, the amount actually consumed turned out to be 4.5% less than what was forecasted.

Albeit these non-optimal conditions, the plant performed excellently. The solar system produced more than expected. Despite irradiation being 4.9% less than anticipated, the solar system produced only 2.3% less energy. A great result.
Fuel savings reached 812,887 liters in the year reviewed, which is only 1.2% less thexpected – even better.

One of the most critical components is the battery as a higher ageing of the battery as the most expensive part of the system can be very costly. The batteries were forecasted to have a remaining battery capacity of 95.6% after the first year of operation. Measurement of the capacity after one year of operation showed that the battery performed much better with 98.7% remaining capacity.

You can find the complete performance analysis here (PDF).

Experiences from the first year of operation

First of all, Sint Eustatius is a really, really great hybrid system from a development point of view. For maintenance and tuning, there is a secure live connection between the hybrid system and SMA headquarters in Germany. Due to the time difference of -6 hours with Germany, we are able to comfortably put agreed optimizations and updates into place while solar production is still sleeping. At noon German time, solar production in the Caribbean powers up and the solar plant is at full power just before quitting time in Germany. This is a luxury unique to this site.

statia_cloudySint Eustatius is also an interesting plant because of where it is located (and not only because of dreamlike water and the generous people living there) and the hybrid system’s characteristics. The solar field is incredibly compact and there are nearly no statistical effects distributing cloud impact to different solar systems in the grid. Above that, cloud movement is often really fast as water all around barely slows wind down. So clouds appear within seconds, causing an immediate and extreme reduction in solar production. This would create a significant strain on the generators because always enough genset power would have to be kept online to cover each single solar break in. At this point the battery storage kicks in. As soon as solar production drops, the storage reacts immediately by pushing energy into the grid with a power of up to +-1MW. As a result, a 0.9MVA genset can run at idle power of 30% while 1.7MW of the load is present in the system.

Sint Eustatius a blueprint for the german energy transition


From the beginning, Germany’s grid utility companies have complained about grid stability as the use of renewable energies has grown. On the right you can see power production of one recent week in the German grid. While in Sint Eustatius the fluctuations in solar power were much more significant as there is little regional distribution AND the renewable share does not cap at 50% as it does in Germany, but instead goes up to 89%; AND there is no larger grid to import / export energy to balance out the fluctuations, Statia Utility Company (Stuco) still intends to raise the renewable share in their grid even further.

So, when a little Caribbean island like Sint Eustatius has the technology to cope with the difficult conditions presented given their location, why should a large European grid not be able to overcome its challenges? If you compare the diagrams, the difference in the level of challenges becomes clear.


Today, we are working on the next level of hybrid systems. While solar-diesel-hybrid systems today mainly reduce consumption with a generator there to cover spikes and to give the beat in the grid, we are developing means to completely turn off all gensets and let the battery storage entirely take over the grid. Again, Sint Eustatius may well be the place where we first implement this large step forward with a larger battery, even more solar and a grid forming industrial class battery inverter.

We will keep you updated on our development progress here.

Interested in the project? Check the video about the project (2016):

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More information

You can find all of our blog posts on the Fuel Save Solution here. It is a great source of information if you are interested in saving fuel or planning to integrate solar energy into your grid.

Do you have comments or questions? Great! Just use the comment field below. We look forward to receiving your comments and we will answer each question as best as we can.

You can find even more details on the Fuel Save Solution Product Website.

If you would like our experts to help you lay out your own Fuel Save Solution, just send us an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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This is how independent energy supply can be quite successful. The screencast shows how easy it is to design a professional island system with Sunny Design Web. 

We guide you through designing an island system and give you tips for your perfect system design. After that, nothing stands in the way of successful operation of the island system.

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