Beyond the Grid – Australian Geographic

“Australians are harnessing nature’s power, making their homes greener, saving money, and breaking free from the grip of the big electricity companies. The grid as we know it is changing forever.”

Australian innovators aren’t missing this opportunity, either. Brisbane-based company Redflow is working on big batteries for commercial applications. But in June they also brought out a household battery about the size of an air-conditioning unit. “The footprint is very good for the amount of energy it holds, “says chief executive Stuart Smith. “If you compare it with the Tesla battery, the amount of energy per square centimetre is very similar.”

All of this solar and battery-storage technology means that the way Australians have received power for much of our history is about to change. For the past 100 years, electricity has been on a one-way journey. At one end are the generators, in the middle are the retailers, and on the end is us, the consumers, trying to remember to switch off the light as we leave the room. Electricity is generated in large power stations. Coal is the main source of Australia s electricity, with a fair chunk from gas, and a small, but a growing proportion from wind and other renewables. From its source in the turbines of power stations, electricity is fed to Australian homes and businesses via high-voltage power lines, bumping down to lower-voltage in substations as it reaches its destination. Over time, the electricity market has evolved into a highly complex entity, where the price can change within the space of five minutes. Complex analysis is used to predict when, •where, and how much electricity will be needed and what the likely cost will be. For example, on hot afternoons, it’s a fair bet everyone will get home from work and school at about the same time and switch on the air conditioner, sending power demand – and the price – skyrocketing. Some power stations are built and kept on standby for exactly these moments, being used on only a few days a year. Stuart says battery technology could help to make these power stations obsolete. “The network has to build for the worst one day of use.


Redflow Australian Geographic August 2 2016 (2)

Image courtesy of National Geographic