The world’s first gigawatt-scale project battery project has been unveiled in Australia — in at the same location where the federal government is controversially planning to build its own 1GW gas-fired power plant.

Local developer CEP Energy has secured a 30-year lease to build the 1.2GW battery project in the small industrial town of Kurri Kurri, New South Wales (NSW), which would be four times larger than the current world record holder, the 300MW/1.2GWh Moss Landing battery in California that was inaugurated in December.

The right-wing Liberal/National coalition government has said it plans to build a gas-fired power plant of up to 1GW in Kurri Kurri through state-owned utility Snowy Hydro to make up for the 2GW of baseload generating capacity the area will lose when the nearby Liddell coal-fired power station is closed in 2023.

But this gas facility may not be financially viable if the 1.2GW battery — which will be charged by local solar power — gets the go-ahead.

The issue has a large political dimension. The federal government is pushing for greater use of natural gas in electricity generation, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison telling journalists last year that there was “no credible energy transition plan for an economy like Australia that does not involve the greater use of gas”.

This is despite the fact that government agency Australian Energy Market Operator says new gas-fired power plants are not needed, and that wind and solar — backed by batteries and pumped hydro — can keep the lights on.

In November, the Liberal/National NSW government unveiled a renewables-focused Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap that would underwrite large-scale renewable-energy projects. Plans for two new gas power plants in the area were immediately put on hold by their developers, prompting federal energy minister Angus Taylor to criticise the roadmap for “scaring away the private sector”.

“The government has always said that if the private sector didn’t step up [to build 1GW of new gas-fired capacity], then the government would step in and Snowy Hydro’s gas plans are part of our response.”

In addition, the chairman of CEP Energy is Morris Iemma, a former Labor Party premier of NSW.

“The clean energy roadmap laid out by the NSW government has provided the market with the confidence to invest in renewable generation supported by large battery storage,” he said.

However, approval of the 1.2GW facility is not guaranteed. AGL Energy — one of Australia’s largest power companies — has also sought permission to build a 500MW battery at the site of the Liddell coal plant, whch is 85km from Kurri Kurri.

And CEP chief executive Peter Wright says that its gigabattery would be built in stages, with the first phase not due to be up and running until 2023 — so it would initially only play a limited role in replacing Liddell’s lost power.

CEP has not stated the size of the project’s energy storage component (measured in GWh), but lithium-ion batteries can provide up to four hours of output at full capacity, so the Kurri Kurri project could be 1.2GW/4.8GWh.

The country’s largest battery to date is the 150MW/193MWh Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia, which was built by Tesla and is now the world’s third biggest battery. In second place is LS Power’s 250MW/250MWh Gateway Energy Storage project in California, which is due to be expanded to 250MW/1GWh.

Several larger storage projects are now in the works in Australia, including Neoen’s plans to build a 300MW/450MWh battery in the state of Victoria, and a 900MW/1.8GW facility in South Australia.


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