The Solar River project in South Australia marks GE’s first confirmed foray into large-scale renewables storage.

GE won its largest grid battery deal so far, to supply a solar plant in South Australia.

The 200-megawatt Solar River plant is going to get coupled with a 100-megawatt/300-megawatt-hour GE Reservoir grid storage system. Solar River already secured Crown Development Approval and could begin to generate power as early as 2021.

This battery is superior to South Australia's Hornsdale Power Reserve, the Tesla-supplied system that now holds the title for world's largest, but won't for a long time. Like that battery, it will supply fast-reacting capacity for a state grid handling fast renewables development as well as baseload coal retirement. But the GE system will utilize its longer energy duration aimed at turning solar power into a dispatchable resource.

The project replies a warning that the Australian power market operator proclaimed in a November report on the status of South Australia's grid.

"System strength needs to be more actively managed, and there is an increased need for fast-start and rapid-response technologies to accommodate changes in renewable energy output and improve power system security," it said. "The shape of operational demand is becoming increasingly peaky, and both demand and supply are exposed to the vagaries of weather, changing the nature and profile of supply scarcity risks."
Photo by Scott Webb / Unsplash

Rooftop solar supplies 15 percent of South Australia's installed capacity; wind delivers 29 percent. Renewables account for almost half of electricity generated, implying the grid has substantial exposure to irregular resources.

That exposure will keep growing, as renewables constitute the bulk of new capacity investments. Negative demand could appear throughout peak solar production hours by 2023 or 2024, and rooftop solar has already pushed the daily peak later into the evening when solar generation diminishes.

Putting the large solar plant and a battery together, after that, directly confronts the "vagaries of weather" problem.

The storage system at Solar River, among the biggest proposed worldwide, will decrease the flood of additional solar generation in the middle of the day and make it available in the more valuable evening hours. Australia's competitive energy market recompenses plant owners for arbitraging energy from times of surplus supply to times of dearth.