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Sonnen to unveil first Australian micro-grid, contemplates local manufacture

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German battery storage manufacturer Sonnen is about to announce the first its Australian “SonnenCity” project, a new housing estate built with solar and storage that acts as a sort of micro-grid, or virtual power plant.

Sonnen has already made a splash in the Australia battery storage market with its “SonnenFlat” product, which after the installation of solar and storage requires only a fixed monthly “software” fee to the household (usually around $30-$40).

That concept has already taken off. Sonnen has installed 1,200 of its battery storage units already, expects to reach 2,000 sales by the end of the year, and plans to triple that in 2018.

SonnenCity works on the same principle as SonnenFlat, but in this case solar and storage is installed at the time of construction, the resources are pooled together in the housing development and the households are charged only a monthly  “software fee” for their electricity use.

CEO Philip Schroeder, in Australia for a visit, says the concept is perfect for new housing estates and retirement villages. The cost of solar and storage is built into the original mortgage or cost of the home, just like an oven.

The first micro-grid could be announced this week in a new housing development in NSW. Sonnen has already teamed up with building products supplier Bristile, both for a solar roof tile, and to get an inside running with project developers.

The move in Australia comes less than a fortnight after Sonnen announced a similar project in Prescott ,Arizona, where it is teaming up US house builder Mandalay Homes to install solar and storage in 3,000 new homes, creating a virtual power plant with 8MWh of storage.

Schroeder says the concept means that a SonnenCity community would need to draw less power from the grid, could maintain power in the case of a wider blackout, and could provide essential grid services where the need arises.

“Micro-grids are the only way to find smart solutions to build communities,” Schroeder says. It reduces the dependence on the grid, minimises the amount of infrastructure needed, and will deliver a significant cost saving for households.

“The problem you have in Australia (with high grid prices) can only be solved by distributed supply and distributed storage,” Schroeder says.

By having customers investing in the solar and storage means savings for all and minimal or no subsidies. As the investment is depreciated, then the electricity becomes available at zero cost.

Indeed, most serious analysis suggests that within a few decades half of all electricity demand will be sourced from “distributed generation”, which means solar and storage in individual homes, businesses and in micro-grids of the type envisioned by Sonnen.

This is seen as the only likely circuit breaker to the endless circles of sunk costs into the grid, and the rorting of wholesale markets and high retail margins which have pushed Australian grid prices to the highest in the world.

“We are optimistic about electricity prices in the long term,” Schroeder says. “They can be reduced.”

And he said that while the energy world used to deal with volatile consumption and stable production, it was now evolving to a more affordable and cleaner electricity source that happens to come with volatile production.

“There is no dispute that renewables are more economic. What we need to do is settle that volatile production, and find a way to manage the loads. That something is called the internet, and that helps make the loads able to follow the production.

“Many thought renewables as non reliable. But it is very reliable. We need to change that mind-set, and we expect to see in 10 years an incredible decrease in electricity prices because the depreciated (solar and storage) assets will produce electricity at a very, very low cost.”

Because of the success of its sales so far, Schroeder said Sonnen is still looking to establish a manufacturing facility in Australia, which makes sense given that the cells produced in Japan are shipped to Germany for integration into the storage units and then back to Australia as a competed unit.

Schroeder says “offers” to set up a manufacturing plant had been received, and the company will likely make a decision in 2018, depending on the course of sales, and once it has satisfied itself that the market will continue to be strong.

He expects the first micro-grid to be finished by the end of 2018, and pointed to a “huge” pipeline of opportunities beyond that, because most housing developers were now interested in the concept.

Individual home builders were also taking up battery storage at a rapid pace, and Schroeder says one third of the “premium” new home market will likely have storage installed over the next year.

“It used to be exotic, and not proven, but now battery storage will come with many new homes,” he says.

However, Schroeder says he is not convinced about the value of “centralised” battery storage installations like that of the “big battery” being built by Tesla in South Australia.

“Within a compound it might make sense to have four or five houses connect to one battery installation. But it is not really feasible to have large centralised batteries  …. they will become the new coal power plants, you’re just replacing one old problem with a new one.”

 

   

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  • Joe

    The Sonnen disruption goes to the next level. The energy majors must be pulling their hair out with worry.

    • BarleySinger

      Not in SA. Power SA changed the grid rules to favor big producers & gut rooftop solar. You are now allowed 5Kw total max production (panels + battery) on anything grid connected that is not three phase.

      What you can physically export to the grid makes no difference (forget about export limiting, it is real but they ignore it). Unless you go off grid or have 3 phase power, you can forget batteries in South Australia. The smallest Tesla Powerwall is too much local power storage to be legal on new single phase or SWER installs in SA (even with no solar panels). That 5Kw max includes your battery bank + panels.

      • Joe

        I live in Sydney and we have a ‘size’ restriction of sorts as well. Single phase power is a max of 5kW size rooftop solar. You can go over 5kW but you need to get special permission and three phase power is required which involves an upgrade cost which is no small amount. But rooftop solar is still going ahead in leaps and bounds and with a sunny exposure with 5kW of panels, a battery is still a worthwhile addition. As far as I know here in Sydney battery sizing hasn’t been restricted for home owners.

      • neroden

        So go off grid. I mean, that’s the obvious thing to do. Who wants to deal with the criminal thieves running the grid? They can’t stop you from going off grid. (Not even by making it illegal.)

  • trackdaze

    Dispatch them immediately.

    • Joe

      Messrs Abbott, Canavan, Kelly would like to be the first customers ?

      • trackdaze

        Canavan will likely be dispatched this Friday.

        • Joe

          …dispatched on the first boat back to Italia

      • trackdaze

        Thanks

  • Robert Westinghouse

    Great. I have a small Sonnen Battery 8kW and it has saved some of my bacon….Way to go!!!

  • Wendy Farmer

    It would be great if Sonnen considered Latrobe Valley in Victoria to build them, it has Australia’s first economic zone & the community are ready to do this sort of work. We also have Earthworker which is a community owned coop building solar hotwater tanks & heatpumps.

  • Radbug

    As I wrote to you before, in my manufactured home park, we have a large, unutilised, north-facing roof on our Community Centre. Our community is geographically defined, many people have their own roof-top arrays and many of these are away interstate visiting family. Together with the QLD government offering interest-free loans for roof-top PV & battery storage, if it wins the next election, Sonnen’s proposal could be just what the doctor ordered!