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Politics be damned – consumers jump aboard the energy revolution

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Australian energy politics might have reached peak stupid, but Australia’s energy revolution – led by innovators and incumbents alike, all focused on delivering smarter, cheaper power – is just hitting its stride. And consumers are getting into it.

At least, that is the feeling at this year’s All-Energy Australia. In its second day at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, the conference has attracted record crowds of more than 6,000 people* and almost 200 exhibitors.

The conference projects a sense of unstoppable momentum, underscored by this year’s record solar PV installation rates, booming interest in battery storage and the leaps and bounds made in smart technology and software platforms that are being masterminded by a growing number of “Internet of Things” start-ups.

And at the centre of it all is the consumer: Australian households and businesses demanding access to the technologies they now know can deliver cheaper power bills and even a more reliable energy supply than what they are getting now.

So while federal government politicians claim climate change is a good thing, and conservative columnists pedal wild conspiracy theories about new smart grid technologies, everyone else is just getting on with it.

PV manufacturers like Jinko Solar, Canadian Solar, Trina, and LONGi Solar are working hard to keep up with renewed demand, as Australian homes and businesses pile into solar PV – commercial solar has accounted for 50 per cent of new capacity installed (by MW) in Australia so far this year.

Even energy market incumbents – like gen-tailer Energy Australia, a surprise new entry among exhibitors at All-Energy this year – are working the floor, keen to show their commitment to a smarter grid and enabling smarter consumers.

Battery giants – including German-based Sonnen, and Chinese battery and EV maker BYD – mingle with up and coming battery technologies like Senec, Simpliphi and Australia’s Ecoult.

While others major industry players, like Fronius, SolarEdge and Enphase, have focussed their inverter technology on helping consumers to maximise solar consumption, and efficient use of grid energy.

Even Chinese mobile phone giant Huawei has a stall, showing off its own flash new inverter – the brains behind solar and storage – and offering, by its very presence here, a powerful example of the direction the industry is now taking.

“When I got into the industry, in… around 2005, it was all about love for the industry. Love for the products that were being built, and those related functionalities,” says Phil Livingston, the head of Redback Technologies.

“Now, it just makes economic sense.”

Redback has just released its second generation home energy management and battery storage system, and on Thursday won another $6 million in finance from the CEFC to help roll it out.

“It doesn’t so much matter what regulatory policy is now,” Livingston added, in an interview with RenewEconomy on the sidelines of the conference.

“It’s going to be hard …to get into the way of the flood. Even with subsidies that directly provide benefit to fossil (fuel) generators.

“For us, it’s all about being more useful for the consumer, building a suite of projects that are intelligence-led.

“What we are doing, effectively, is building the intelligence that allows these networks to really grapple with the real problems in their networks, by understanding what those problems really are,” Livingston said.

“To be frank, with batteries (prices) falling the way they are, I think that the government needs to get on board, as a means of self-preservation, more than anything.”

Across the other end of the vast exhibition hall, Chris Parratt, who heads up Sonnen Australia, says there’s still a way to go for his company – a leading battery seller in Europe – in the Australian market; even despite it being “the place to be” for home battery storage.

“There’s a lot of potential with (Australian) energy prices and our wealth and our usage of energy is very high. To the Germans we look very silly (for) how much energy we use,” Parratt told RE.

“Solar’s doing really well this year… despite the politicians. Battery storage …I think is right at the beginning. Australia is definitely seen as the number one growth place.”

For Canberra-based company, Reposit Power, the name of the game has become increasingly clear:

“It’s about embracing the abundance of renewables and allowing technology to manage that,” said Reposit founder and CEO Dean Spaccavento at a panel discussion at All-Energy on Thursday.

“What (consumers) do want, from what we can tell, is comfort; in that they want to live in their home and not think about what it is that makes their home good to live in – it just wants to be good to live in,” he said.

So how can we speed the transition to a smarter, cheaper grid? Would – as one audience member wondered – a summer of blackouts help move things along?

“No way, absolutely not,” said Spaccavento.

And Stefan Jarnason – CEO of smart solar software company Solar Analytics – was quick to explain.

“What that drives, is politicians to make stupid policy,” he told the conference. “And what I think we can unanimously say, is that we would like politicians to be quiet.”

*This article has been updated to correct the reported number of people who attended this year’s All-Energy Australia conference.   

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  • trackdaze

    Not sure its a revolution.

    Perhaps the increased uptake of renewables by households, businesses and even utilities is infact a Revolt against the government.

  • Roger Franklin

    Sophie – a nice article – thank you. Let’s just put it out there – Australian energy politics have reached #PeakStupidity.

    The fact that 10,000+ people attended the All-Energy event is further proof Big Mal and team are largely becoming irrelevant. As Phil Livingston from Redback says, “Now, it just makes economic sense.”.

    • Steve159

      It would be interesting to see what percentage of that 10,000, if any, were Daily Telegraph / Australian readers.

      • technerdx6000

        The Australian comment section is so ridiculous, your IQ drops from reading it

        • Steve159

          Yeah, finding their way to the conference would have required some IQ.

          And thinking beyond the rubbish in the Murdoch press, an even higher IQ. Hence the query as to what percentage of those who read the Murdoch papers made it to the conference.

  • I do agree with Stefan’s comment about politicians just getting in the way. As I wrote here, politicians have been our Villain #1 in the “energy transition train wreck”:
    http://www.wattclarity.com.au/2017/10/a-long-list-of-villains-that-have-each-contributed-to-our-energy-crisis/

    • Ren Stimpy

      You didn’t do jack with that piece. The blame lies secondarily with Nick Minchin, stupidest person / climate denier to ever grace our parliament. Also with Andrew Robb, Barnaby Joyce, etc among other climate deniers.

      The primary blame lies with Kevin Rudd, who should have called a double dissolution election the very second, and not a millisecond later, that Abbott the weathervane turd became opposition leader by ousting Turnbull.

      Rudd by not calling a DD election let this crop of denier idiot dunce whiney conservative stupid idiots for emolument off the tether, by wrongly not proceeding with what he rightly said was the greatest moral issue of our time.

      • Joe

        Yes, the Minchin , what a Champion…NOT. And yes we can all look back and say the defining moment was Rudd caving in when The Greens refused to support Labor’s then Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme as not being ambitious enough. Still it is no excuse for what has followed, just pure politics from the COALition ever since and they are the prime authors of the current mess.

  • Rob G

    I cannot help thinking the government’s lack of action on rising energy prices (namely lack of carbon pricing and policy certainty) is causing a rush towards rooftop solar with customers seeking cost solutions. Talk about an unintended backfiring! There will soon be a time where we will be awash with cheap, abundant solar energy. This is the stuff of nightmares for a certain T. Abbott. I can’t wait!

  • Joe

    Whenever there is a crisis or a natural disaster people automatically expect that the government will immediately come to the rescue. That isn’t always the case and in some instances affected people have to take matters into their own hands and deliver their own solutions until the government arrives on the scene.Whilst Australia’s energy situation is not a natural disaster there clearly is a lot wrong and our Australian Government is a big part of the problem. No surprise then to see that 1.7 million Aussie homes now have rooftop solar. The home batteries are now coming as well. Here we see then that a failure of government has provided the impetus for individuals to come up with solutions. We now have an unstoppable ( albeit slower than if The COALition would just out of the way ) move to RE. Homeowners have led the way by voting with their wallets in adopting rooftop solar these last 10 years and now Business is increasingly coming onboard. It is a no brainer and our government is the follower NOT the leader!

    • MrMauricio

      An INCREDIBLY reluctant and vexatious follower!!

      • Joe

        Amen to that

  • Miles Harding

    One sure sign that the revolution is underway will be seeing the premium attached to many batteries (aka gouging) disappear, exposing the actual costs. Those suppliers that can’t come into line with the price setter (Tesla?) will fail.

    With Channel nine running peak time stories about the good of solar and batteries
    (here: https://www.9now.com.au/a-current-affair/2017/extras/latest/171009/free-power-for-life ), we can expect that many more will get out of their gumption trap and participate. Each consumer that installs a battery is putting another nail in the COALition’s coal powered coffin.

    • juxx0r
      • Greg Hudson

        Based on those figures, you are obviously not in Australia. I’ll guess Canada or USA. It would be cheaper for you to move here than build that solar system (well almost) 😉

        • juxx0r

          Note the includes STC discount!! so there’s another $3500 hidden in the price.

          That quote was from Perth.

          When i spoke with old mate, he didn’t believe me that i could find it for half the price elsewhere.

          • Greg Hudson

            I’ve had 2 quotes for basically the same system (Melbourne) both under $15k (including a Tesla PowerWall 2)

          • juxx0r

            I dont doubt that at all.

            Solar is now $5k for 5 kW, Storage is $7k for 10kWh, $9k for 13.5kWh.

            End of story.

            Time for the Clean energy council to start cleaning up the industry.

    • Mike Dill

      The GigaFactory is not keeping up with the demand. Tesla is moving a lot of PW2’s to Puerto Rico, as part of the ’emergency’. While we wait others are taking marketshare, if not mindshare.

  • oakleighpark

    When is Australia going to start taking energy efficiency seriously and crank up the building code to the point where solar and batteries really make sense?

    • Farmer Dave

      Great point! Properly enforcing the current codes would be a good start while working on improving them.

      • solarguy

        It is a great point, but try getting the aloof bastards to listen.

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