How realistic is grid-scale battery storage in South Africa?

How realistic is grid-scale battery storage in South Africa?

South Africa has been in need of a systemwide grid update for years. From load shedding to poor service delivery, South Africans have never been afforded the comfort of an affordable, reliable and environmentally-friendly means of electricity production, storage and distribution.

A battery energy storage system (BESS) could be transformational technology that is needed to turn South Africa’s electrical grid into the dependable and progressive system it could be. Grid-scale battery storage was simply a dream a decade ago. However, our global shift in attitude towards climate change – and the carbon-intensive processes that caused it – has inspired a demand for cleaner and greener energy solutions.

By realising grid-scale battery storage there has been a significant drop in the cost of renewable power generation; as solar, wind, hydro and biogas become more practical and dependable sources of energy for any day and any season.

Is it Possible?

Yes. Unfortunately, we have only run part of the marathon to reach total grid-level capacity without infrastructural intrusion. We can choose from several battery types that are all being tested for their viability at grid scale: lithium-ion, lead-acid, redox flow, molten salt and other sodium-based battery chemistries. For example: lithium-ion battery prices dropped by over 70% between 2010 and 2016.

Each presents advantages and disadvantages that change their practicability due to their technical makeups. Once the right battery chemistry is found, one providing enough reliability, affordability and storage capacity, BESSs can begin playing a much larger role in the generation and distribution of electricity anywhere in the world.

Battery storage has the capacity to transform power systems, creating a more flexible and sustainable electrical grid that satisfies the public – and planetary – need. The key is that we do not have to wait for total grid-scale battery storage in South Africa. BESS technologies are being designed to safely supplement and integrate with existing, traditional electrical grids.

Grid-scale battery storage addresses the long-held concerns about the intermittency of solar and wind power sources by saving the excess energy generated on very sunny or windy days. Another concern is that rising electricity demands, usually, require the slow and arduous building of another environmentally-disastrous fossil fuel power plant.

BESSs are more flexible and responsive to growing electricity demands, and as the demand for sustainable energy services grows, prices will continue to drop. These could make the South African grid more resilient to load shedding and rolling blackouts. This is done by creating alternative choices to Eskom’s disastrous electrical coverage and reliability that utilise our abundant natural resources, sustainably.

Challenges to Face

As with any new technology, there are many challenges to overcome before grid-scale battery storage – that supplies the whole country – is possible. From economic and regulatory barriers, to a still-growing call to combat climate change with renewable electricity, there is a shift that is still trending towards BESSs replacing our carbon-intensive, traditional generation processes.

Other barriers that exist are governments, like South Africa’s, who are a parastatal or monopolistic owners of the country’s electrical production market. Eskom and government have a lot to lose when storable sustainable energy becomes a reality across the country. We will need political will and financial cooperation to make this green transition realisable.

How Would it Work?

Requirements for Battery Energy Storage Systems:

  • The rated power capacity – the maximum rate of discharge (kW) possible for BESSs  
  • The energy capacity – the maximum amount of possible stored energy (kWh) per BESS
  • Storage duration – the amount of time the BESS can discharge at full capacity before depleting its store
  • The lifecycle or lifetime of a BESS before experiencing failure or significant degradation
  • Self-discharge – the percentage of charge lost or leaked in the course of using BESSs
  • State of charge – this is the disparity and charge-time of a BESS from completely empty to fully charged
  • Round-trip efficiency – this accounts for the disparity between amount of power stored and effectively distributed

The benefits go beyond cleaner, safer and more reliable energy sources. Users have the opportunity to use excess stores of power to sell back into the national grid when electricity demands and prices are up. This is referred to as arbitrage and can be done any time users have excess power or a spike in demand occurs.

BESSs will become a more accessible, dependable and mobile tools of power generation and storage. They can be applied anywhere and at any scale; they can be used at residential or commercial scale, in hard-to-reach areas of South Africa, when being hit by load shedding and, soon, at a national scale.

Developments to Come

There are other factors and technologies that will impact how feasible and realistic grid-scale battery storage in South Africa. Artificial intelligence and general intelligence are already evolving the management and distribution methods we use today. Highs and lows in the cost and availability of natural resources and processing infrastructure will have an impact on our ability to build larger and better BESSs. 

It is important to analyse the costs and benefits of installing BESSs and find where the most effective areas for deployment are. This is how we ensure that large battery storage becomes viable and requisite to meet system demands.

The developmental possibilities that come with a large-scale transition to renewable energy and battery storage could be hugely impactful across South African businesses, homes, communities and government. It is clear that battery storage is the key to long-term, reliable and sustainable energy that still works on cloudy or windless days.

If you are looking to make your own sustainable energy transition, Solar4Life’s solar panel solutions can be suited to meet your residential or commercial energy needs, anywhere in Gauteng. Find out more at Solar4Life today. 

(Image sourced from The Verge)