Chris Gwynne has a glint in his eye as soon as he starts talking about his baby: the Battery of the Nation project.
Never far from his engineering roots, he’s fired up about being part of the solution to one of Australia’s most pressing problems.
“It’s exciting times to be in the energy industry.”
He gesticulates as the pitch of his voice rises and falls.
“This is my subdued self. People tell me all the time, ‘you’re too passionate, hold some back’,” he jokes.
Why is he so excited? It’s about Tasmania providing a solution to a challenge that the rest of Australia – and the world – is grappling with: how do we transition from coal-fired power stations to renewable energy while keeping the lights on?
It all starts with Tasmania’s abundance of natural resources.
“We have the good fortune of precious water and a hydro power system we have built over many decades but we’ve also got the ability to develop a lot of wind generation here in Tasmania because our wind resource across the island is so strong as well,” Chris says.
And the business cases for more wind farms on the island is already stacking up. North-West commuters are reminded of that fact each time they pass the stockpile of wind turbine parts stored at Burnie, destined to be part of the Granville Harbour Wind Farm.
The rest of Australia wants renewable energy and Tasmania can provide it.
“For Tasmania, it’s an export opportunity. We have a valued resource that the rest of the market in Australia will need in coming decades and we have the opportunity to export that just like any other assets, whether they be agriculture or tourism.
“It’s an advantage for us in a market that needs a lot of this renewable energy in coming decades.”
Potential of pumped hydro
A key component of the Battery of the Nation is the development of pumped hydro.
The main drawback of wind or solar power is the time period when the power is being generated doesn’t necessarily match up with the period when demand for electricity is the greatest. If there’s nowhere to use or store the energy, then it is lost.
A pumped hydro site can use this renewable energy to pump water from one reservoir to another reservoir that is at least 200 metres higher in altitude.
The water is released from the higher reservoir through pipes to generate electricity when it is needed.
Hydro Tasmania has identified three sites that would be ideal for pumped hydro:
- Lake Cethana could provide 12 hours of storage capacity if a 600 megawatt power station and a new upper reservoir were built.
- Lake Rowallan could provide 24 hours of storage if a 600 megawatt power station and a link to a new upper reservoir were built.
- Tribute pumped hydro on the West Coast could provide 31 hours of storage if a link between two existing storages – Lake Plimsoll and Lake Murchison – was built with a 500 megawatt power station.
Is there a front runner yet?
“Nice try,” Chris chuckles.
“If you had any one of those sites somewhere else in Australia, you would be developing it. It’s just that we have a number of strong sites to choose from here in Tasmania.”
Hydro Tasmania is continuing to weigh up the positives and negatives of each site to help decide which project will be fast-tracked.
“The final decision on the details of the interconnector have an impact on which of the sites that we would probably choose to develop first.”
The missing link(s)
All of the pumped hydro, wind and solar projects would be moot without a key piece of infrastructure: the Marinus Link.
This second cable linking Tasmania to Victoria will have about twice the capacity of Basslink, at 1200 megawatts.
The business case assessment is due by the end of this year.
Chris has his eye on a future where there are several interconnectors.
“The Battery of the Nation concept is not just about the next interconnector. There’s enough natural resources here, both in our water and our wind in particular, but also solar as well… to potentially put in a number of Marinus links over the next 10 or 20 years.
“When we’re building the case for the next Marinus Link, we’ve always got an eye on another one that could come along 8-10 years after that and potentially another one.”
Better energy security for Tasmania will be a welcome side-effect of the Marinus Link and pumped hydro development.
These projects will give the state access to more diverse energy supply so we are less reliant on regular rainfall to keep the lights on.
“The Basslink conversation in early 2000s was very much around what Tasmanians need to do to improve our energy supply.
“This conversation around Marinus Link and Battery of the Nation is a very different conversation because what we’re actually doing is responding to a market need on the mainland.
“The fact that that response improves our energy security is cream on the cake.”
It also has the potential to attract new power-heavy businesses to the state and bolster the case for more renewable projects in Victoria.
Tasmania isn’t the main beneficiary of the Battery of the Nation – Victoria and other coal-reliant states are – which means Tasmania won’t be alone in footing the bill for the Marinus Link.
“Basically what that means is the people who benefit from it in the market also pay for that investment. It is well-recognised and accepted that Tasmanian should not be footing more than their fair share of this investment.”
Hydro Tasmania is confident the investment in its assets will pay off in the long term.
“The market will reward that storage and flexible supply because it’s needed. It’s no different to us investing in our current assets.
“We spend over $100 million a year investing in our current asset base. We do that on the basis that these are valuable assets in the current marketplace and that investment will be rewarded in coming decades.”
A ripple effect
All of this new infrastructure means a lot of new jobs for Tasmanians. The interconnector could generate about 1000 jobs over several years. This would allow Hydro to go ahead with one of its pumped hydro sites, creating about 300 jobs.
On top of that, more jobs will be created by private investment in wind and solar farm projects.
The catch is Tasmanians need to be ready with the right skills at the right time.
“We want to create as many opportunities for Tasmanians as we possibly can, and that will mean we will need more skilled people to do all aspects of these projects.
“And that’ll be university-trained professionals but that’ll be a very very strong requirement for trades, civil, mechanical, electrical trades and those that are involved in the general construction industry as well.
If I was advising someone younger in the local area here where their opportunities are in the future, I would be telling them to look very closely at the energy industry and look for the opportunities that are about to come this way.
Chris Gwynne, Battery of the Nation project director at Hydro Tasmania
With more jobs comes more economic activity. Workers will be have to eat, shop and use services in the surrounding communities.
“The ripple impact across whole of North-West Coast will be felt.”
Hydro has been getting the word out about the pumped hydro projects at community drop-in sessions at Sheffield, Deloraine, Moina and Lorrina. Next stop will be Queenstown at the West Coast Community Services Hub on Wednesday, September 18, 4.30pm to 6.30pm.
“The good thing that we get from our consultation sessions is people are pretty relaxed. There’s no sort of unhelpful competition between the various regions. They all realise that if we can work together we’ll all benefit from the development.”
A new chapter
In the 20th century, the hydro system opened up the state, ushering in a period of economic and social change.
For Chris the Battery of the Nation project has the potential to do this again.
“Tasmanians are rightly proud of the Hydro development over many decades but we now have the opportunity to do something similar that doesn’t just benefit us but has a national and global reach as well and I think that is certainly something that excites me.”