WA establishes Energy Transformation Taskforce, backs battery metals exploration projects

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The program of co-funded drilling in Western Australia has attracted an unprecedented number of exploration projects that target battery materials. Nearly a third of successful applicants in the latest round of the Exploration Incentive Scheme’s (EIS) Co-funded Exploration Drilling Program are focusing on battery metals.

A total of $5.12 million in grants is being offered to 45 companies and prospectors selected by the McGowan Government in Round 19 of the program, which was initiated in 2009 with the goal to encourage innovative drilling in greenfields areas.

In the latest round, most of the projects eligible for government co-funding will be searching for nickel, with others seeking lithium, cobalt, rare earth elements and graphite. A number of them will be on a lookout for traditional metals such as gold, copper, silver and base metals. One project will be looking for diamonds and another exploring for petroleum.

“The sharp rise in popularity of battery materials among explorers underscores the importance of the McGowan Government’s Future Battery Industry strategy,” says WA Minister for Mines Bill Johnston. “We’re pleased that this round reflects such a varied mix of new-energy and traditional exploration projects.”

With abundant deposits at hand, Western Australia is looking to position itself at the forefront of global battery manufacturing. Earlier this year, the state government launched a strategy to grow WA’s future battery industry, which aims to grow the state into a leading exporter of future battery minerals, materials, technologies and expertise.

The state’s ambitions were backed by the federal government with a $25 million grant to establish the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre (FBICRC) at Curtin University in Perth. The $135 million, industry-led cooperative research centre will bring together 58 stakeholders from industry, government and the research community to address industry-identified gaps in the battery industry value chain, support battery deployment and optimise the circular economy for battery recycling.

Energy transformation

Alongside its battery ambitions, Western Australia is planning to make its grid greener and more resilient. Although it still lacks a renewable energy target or a net zero emissions target, WA is looking to modernize the wholesale electricity market with the aim to enhance power system security and enable new, largely renewable generators to access Western Power’s network.

In March, the McGowan government launched its Energy Transformation Strategy for a better co-ordinated power system, noting that the electricity sector is experiencing a major transformation because of the rapid uptake of rooftop solar panels and battery storage systems, and increasing levels of large-scale renewable generators, such as wind and solar farms.

This week, the government has established a taskforce to implement the strategy with former Horizon Power chairperson Stephen Edwell at the helm. Commenting on the appointment, Johnston expressed confidence Edwell’s abilities and experience would be instrumental in progressing the strategy.

“Mr Edwell was the inaugural chairperson of the Australian Energy Regulator and has successfully led major reform projects in Western Australia and Queensland, including creating WA’s electricity market,” the minister said, noting that the strategy will improve network connection and electricity market arrangements to cater for the growth of renewable energy into the future.

Specifically, the taskforce will deliver the Energy Transformation Strategy’s Whole of System Plan to facilitate a more co-ordinated approach for the power system of the future. It will also produce a Distributed Energy Resources Roadmap to guide the integration of solar panels, battery storage and electric vehicles into the power system.

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