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Australian solar needs battery storage, not more PV cowboys

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The Alternative Energy Association has posted an elaborate array of facts and figures which seem to point to the conclusion that smaller is economically better when it comes to roof top solar PV systems.

This conveniently coincides with one of the last remaining Liberal policies, being one million solar roofs. Just when the cowboys had all but left the industry, the specter of $1000 rooftop PV systems has been reignited, a volume business where quality comes last, STC’s* hit the floor and A Current Affair gets more segments.

The truth about these facts and figures is that they provide only a snapshot view of today, it relies on assumptions and does not look anywhere toward the future. It belies the fact that the potential for a major shift in generation and distribution is upon us.

Australia, particularly with it’s concentration of population – and solar installations – on the eastern seaboard, has the opportunity to revolutionise electricity supplies, but is stuck in what seems to be a policy vacuum. Solar will never be an attractive renewable source without some form of storage or time-shifting.

The policy makers in Germany, which has an east west footprint (and therefore enjoys a more even spread of solar power), have embraced solar so well that they are only now experiencing the issues that we have with the sudden shut down of solar power in the late afternoon.

So what do these smart people do? They subsidize storage, to the tune of 500euro/KWH. Imagine if every house had 10KWH of storage, the grid would be almost redundant; the 51% portion of electricity bills could be slashed to help the people who can’t access solar.

By adding even more small PV systems and still ignoring the issue of evening peaks, we are only going to make a bad situation worse, to the detriment of the industry and the community. It doesn’t matter if we have bucket loads of gas to fire peaking power plants, unless they are located in your neighborhood park, we are still going to get stung for more and more “peak” infrastructure that is used a fraction of the year.

Energex in Queensland is currently offering rebates of up to $500, for the ability to augment peak demand for air conditioners; one has to wonder however how long a lump sum payment will ensure a customer will allow their Air Conditioner to be switched off remotely when they want to use it the most.

Ultimately, Time-Of-Use metering must prevail, as intended by the NEM legislation. Only then will customers have real control of energy prices.

But there is one condition that will need to be met for TOU to work, that is that it reflects actual costs, and not be used as a candle wick to produce income streams unrelated to energy supply. This seems to be the case in NSW where Shoulder and Peak are identical rates.

Storage can then truly make an impact and take commercial leaps and bounds. Even non-solar owners can charge their storage device off-peak (which may well be mid-afternoon when there is excess solar) for use when prices spike in the evening. The death spiral for distribution is in full swing, the problem is the powers to be are trying to reverse the causes, not embrace them and steer the Australian electrical industry on a new, innovative course.

Rob Campbell is a self-described champion of distributed energy storage and the head of a storage manufacturer.

* STCs – certificates  

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  • Stuart.Bonnington

    “Imagine if every house had 10KWH of storage, the grid would
    be almost redundant”

    It might be moreaccurate to say something along the lines of – if you have a small family, gas central heating, gas hot water, a gas cooker and do not have air conditioning
    then you might be able to disconnect yourself from the grid on a 10 kWh solar
    storage system. That’s if you are content with candle light camp fire meals if
    it’s cloudy and rainy for a prolonged period.

    I’m for renewables but that statement is quite bold and I don’t
    think it applies to the vast majority of Australians.

    Even if every house did disconnect from the grid, the grid
    would be far from redundant – we’ve still got all the industry and services…

    • Rob Campbell

      Yes there would be still industry, but you must consider diversification, Ma and Pa Kettle might be tucked up in bed by 6pm whilst Warren Wiseass sits in his spa drinking from his glass door fridge. But even in the event of prolonged dreary days, comprehensive deployment will still mean only a small but constant supply of power need to come from sources external to a given area. But I do mean comprehensive deployment. Industry, particularly commercial industries, can deploy solar on their roofs and employ storage to meet the early evening peaks and reduce that demand all the way to the power station.

      • Stuart.Bonnington

        I still don’t totally follow you. Are you suggesting that ;
        – All Australians install solar and storage and disconnect from the grid
        – All Australians installed solar and storage and stay on the grid
        – Something else ?

        • Rob Campbell

          The answer is “B” when I say the grid is nearly redundant I’m talking about 11KV upwards. This doesn’t mean it can go, but we shouldn’t have to spend 51% of our bill gold plating and duplicating it to meet the 1% of the time that it is needed. We are talking armageddon when solar doesn’t produce at least 15-20 of its normal output regardless of the weather.And, as we all know clouds reduce heating and cooling costs by insulating us. So the demands for energy are reduced when solar is impaired by clouds.If you crunch the numbers, you will be pleasantly surprised that it conceivable to run a suburb of an extension lead? (DONT TAKE THAT LITERALLY!)

          • Stuart.Bonnington

            Sorry Rob but I’m not really fully understanding your
            points. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to have all this infrastructure sitting
            around that only gets used to its full potential once or twice a year, but you’re
            idea of having all Australians have their own solar and storage, and connected
            to the grid really will not be effective in reducing the overhaul cost.

            And getting rid of 11 kV and upwards again just isn’t a good
            idea. I’m not sure if you mean having only 415 V, or having 415 and 11 kV, but
            either way it’s not going to work…

            My only advice to you is to get a better understanding of
            electrical engineering, power systems, and system security and then come back
            to me. The fact that you keep using KV rather than kV indicates to me how much
            you know about this field. It wouldn’t be cheaper to have everybody on solar and
            storage AND to have 11 kV around. And it would definitely be a lot less secure.

          • Rob Campbell

            I didn’t say get rid of it, I said it would be “ALMOST REDUNDANT” meaning its use would reduce dramatically. To respond in your own language learn to read english and get back to me.

          • John P

            I’ve been ‘off grid’ for more than 20 years.
            Storage is the key but so is a very efficient house and lifestyle.
            I’ve saved a small fortune in the process.

          • Harry00

            A large portion of electricity demand is from large customers such as shopping centres and sky scrappers in CBD’s. Those customers connect mainly at 11kV or above. The Melbourne CBD for example consumes around 20% of VIC’s demand.
            Having that part of the network become “redundant” will cause prices to go through the roof as the death spiral occurs and what will happen to those who cant get solar. Will be a TOTAL disaster. You definitely have it all wrong…

    • Stan Hlegeris

      My last electricity account advises that an average residence in my local area (in SE Queensland) with four people draws about 20 kWh per day. We might suppose that 3/4 of that consumption is at night, about 15 kWh. On that basis 10kWh of storage would cover 2/3 of the average household’s nighttime requirement. It wouldn’t take much tweaking from there to use storage to meet all nighttime needs.

      • Stuart.Bonnington

        Stan, if you are assuming that 3/4 of the consumption is at night, then you probably studied at the same place as Rob…

    • David Osmond

      I sense that Rob’s point is that if every house had 10kWh of storage, then you could start planning your network so that it only had to meet the day’s average demand, rather than the peak demand. This would mean you could remove the need for GWs of peak generation capability, while the transmission and distrubution networks could similarly have lesser requirements.

      I agree with Rob that this would be a very worthy goal for the government to support, much more so that subsidising more solar PV installations which will probably happen anyway.

      • Rob Campbell

        Thanks, you understand, I thought it was me!!!!

    • smilingjack00

      why would you need to have light campfire meals if you have a gas cooker?
      I have a 1kw system on a 400sqm 2 storey house in the adelaide hills and had a $900 winter bill. no gas on the house and tank water which requires a pump.
      thats with several 15 minute HOT showers every day and 8 adults and 6 kids having a holiday in the house with us. inverter reverse cycle air cons kept us warm along with a combustion type wood heater. I would use the oven at least every second day for an hour ( at least ) Im turning out over 7kw a day currently. summer bill with a home office in use all day and use of air cons will be probably a few hundred per quarter for the next 6 months. if I had a 5kw system I would be killing it. decent battery storage cant come quick enough for me. Its windy often here so a little turbine would go down a treat.

  • Tom

    Charge for kVA usage first. Then let the storage market develop itself as is needed. Currently there are too few instances of over or under-supply to make storage viable. Reducing peak demand with storage is also a very small market. More renewables and falling storage costs will change the economics over time but it would be foolish to chase to storage dream before the time is right.

  • Harry00

    Lets have 2 scenarios. So they’re going to build a new community comprising of 30,000 new homes.

    Scenario 1 – Every home with 10kwh storage
    – at $5000 each, total cost of $150 million for 30,000 storage systems
    – One transformer (500kw) per 1000 homes. So 30 transformers at $50,000 each is $1.5 million.
    – Zone substation supplying the community at a capacity of 20MW costing $6 million.
    – Peak load (during low sunshine days) about 15MW at 500 watts each home
    Total cost: $157.5 million (note storage requires replacement every 10yrs)

    Scenario 2 – Efficient homes
    – One transformer (500kw) per 400 homes. So 75 transformers at $50,000 each is $3.7 million.
    – Zone substation supplying the community at a capacity of 40MW costing $14 million.
    – Peak load about 30MW at around 1,000 watts each home.
    Total cost: $17.7 million

    PS: 10Kwh of storage currently costs around $12,000!
    Even if storage was $120 per Kwh, it would still cost a total of $36 million.
    Peak demand through the non-storage scenario could be halved at a much much smaller cost.

    • Rob Campbell

      I can’t work out your figures, but I see where you are heading. What I am talking about can be applied regardless of how efficient the homes are. It will just be much more effective one efficient homes,. possibly 5KWH of storage would do in scenario.

      • Harry00

        Sure well ive pretty much listed the required infrastructure for a storage and non storage scenario for a new community. I was also reading a report initiated by Redflow a battery manufacturer and they concluded (after a trial of their storage units) that if every home had a storage device it wouldn’t be economically viable, which is what I concluded here also. They say 1 unit per 13 homes would be or possibly really small amounts of storage per home as you say. Either way would still require use of the grid out of peak hours and during low daylight hours. So the grid will be far from “almost redundant” for the most cost effective solution.

        • Stuart.Bonnington

          Agreed Harry. Even if we were to go down the road of having a large amount of storage in the network, it would make much more sense to have a few centralised battery banks owned and operated by private or national companies – we’d be able to access much more data about the performance of these batteries ect as well as rolling out a maintenance strategy for them.
          Give a grant to John Smith to install some batteries and chances are they won’t get looked at for 10 years or until they blow.

          • Rob Campbell

            In a couple of days I will post some scenarios to look at.

      • Harry00

        Also by transformer, I mean as in a street side transformer which would receive supply at 11kV and supply out 415V for home use.

  • Luan Hung

    “Rob Campbell is a self-described champion of distributed energy storage and the head of a storage manufacturer.”
    Oh so now it makes sense why your article has been written so biased. Redflow a manufacturer of storage systems them self’s even concluded it isn’t viable to have a storage unit for every home. Surely you knew that yeah?

  • Math Geurts

    The German grid almost redundant with rooftop solar plus 10 kWh battery storage?

    Electricity produced by PV in German. July 2013: 5.1 TWh = 14,4% of demand.
    However, when demand peaks: December 2012: 0.5 TWh, January: 2013 0,35.