Australia facing 'iPhone' moment with home battery storage | RenewEconomy

Australia facing ‘iPhone’ moment with home battery storage

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Australia has all the ingredients to be world’s leading market on battery storage: Lots of solar, high prices, and a consumer base that is cost conscious and distrustful of incumbents. Add in a flash consumer product, and it has all the elements of an iPhone style revolution.

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Australia has all the ingredients to be the world’s leading market on battery storage: Lots of solar, high prices, and a consumer base that is independent, cost conscious and distrustful of incumbents.

There is no doubt that Australia is going to be at the leading edge of battery storage. As we have written before, that is because of the huge number of solar panels already on household rooftops, the high electricity costs (particularly network charges), and the excellent solar resources.

But there is more than that behind the reason so many global battery storage developers are targeting Australia as their first big market, and a test case to the world. It is also about the unique approach Australians have to their energy supplies, a healthy cynicism about the incumbent utilities, and a yearning for energy independence.

Australia, according to Greg Bourne, the chairman of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, is about to enter the “iPhone” moment in battery storage.

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The evolution of the iPhone

“It would appear that energy storage has arrived!” Bourne told the Australian Energy Storage conference in Sydney. “Of course it’s been around for quite a time in some form or other but just like 2007 was the iPhone moment; 2015 might be seen as the Tesla moment!

Bourne’s referral to an i-phone moment alludes to 2007, when after nearly 15 years of playing with fairly cluncky “smart phone”, Apple came out with the first touch-screen, and the market has exploded ever since.

“When the taxi driver starts talking about battery storage, you’d better start listening,” he said. “A lot of them know about storage, because they drive Prius cars and other hybrid electrics.”

Bourne says the battery storage market is at a similar point, highlighted by the plunging costs and the consumer aesthetics being introduced by the likes of Tesla.

ARENA's Greg Bourne
ARENA’s Greg Bourne

“The Tesla Powerwall begins to look like a consumer product with desirable features to it.,” Bourne told RenewEconomy. “It says, ‘I want to work with you’.

“We are going to see this industry grow in a way that most people will be so surprised.

“The potential interest in the residential market is very, very high. Costs are coming down and as technology moves forward, the one-way power system mentality is disappearing very fast.

“Time is ticking forward in a way that some energy companies have not realised what is happening.”

According to Kane Thornton, the CEO of the Clean Energy Council, it is about Australians’ unique idea of independence, a strong romance factor, and a lack of trust in utilities.

Return on investment also comes into it, but it may be further down the list, and that will be largely dictated by the regulators and incumbents, in the form of tariff incentives.

Thornton says the consumer base in Australia is reasonably cynical about utilities. They like the idea of energy independence and are becoming increasingly energy literate.

And they have a further incentive, given that some 250,000 households across Australia, as pointed out by Morgan Stanley in an analysis last week, are about to move from premium feed-in tariffs to so called “fair value” solar tariffs that, Thornton noted, were arguably not very fair value at all.

“You don’t need to be a genius to see where there is a value proposition for storage in that market,” Thornton said.

Interestingly, Thornton also cited the litmus test of a taxi-drive. He said his father, a sheep farmer in Victoria, was also talking battery storage.

“There is a romance factor about this technology. My taxi driver was telling me about battery storage technology, my dad, a sheep farmer, was talking about it. People are excited about it.”

Bourne added that energy companies which kept their “heads in the sand” risked seeing their consumers leaving the grid. That threat is real, he said, and would happen if they didn’t act.

“People will put up barriers to stop this coming about. My own sense is bring it on,” Bourne said.

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28 Comments
  1. brad meikle 5 years ago

    Giles,
    I want to send what is a thanks to you, one that you probably don’t hear enough. I read all the renewable energy rags and I consistently enjoy yours the most, hands down. Your articles are consistently on point and germane. Nearly always they are a breath of fresh air, a relief from the onslaught of disinformation that is the majority of most media wires.
    It is clear that while AU is going in the wrong direciton, at some point it will reverse from the current extreme position in the same way as a rubber band.
    Best
    Brad Meikle

  2. Rob G 5 years ago

    I’ve just come back from the storage expo and was blown away by the huge number of storage solutions that are already on our shores. You can be forgiven for thinking that the Tesla powerwall is the be all and end all. Storage has so many sides that I just hadn’t thought about from residential independence, small businesses to full on grid back-up. Then there’s the cloud smarts that goes with all of it, the micro-grids that you can setup with your neighbours. Clearly a lot of innovative people want in on these businesses and that’s understandable as customer interest increases.

    One other fact I found interesting was the number of Tesla cars in NSW. In 8 months there have been 200+ cars brought in NSW. They have about 20% of the EV market in OZ and are growing at such a rate.

    • Stan Hlegeris 5 years ago

      Plus the thirty Tesla owners we’ve been able to identify in Queensland so far.

      Tesla already delivers totally reliable 85kWh battery packs which we can drive around, regardless of pouring rain, blazing heat, and vibration. Imagine what a dawdle it is for them (and others) to deliver 10-20kWh packs to sit in the serene safety of our garages or cupboards.

      • Roger Brown 5 years ago

        Nice up market cars , but will wait for the X model , 7 seater all-wheel drive SUV = $35K USD . A commercial ute / van would be better ?

        • Rob G 5 years ago

          I’m thinking the same thing – but isn’t the 35k one the model 3 – not the 7 seater? Either way I’m hoping my other car can last until then as I really don’t want another petrol car.

        • RobS 5 years ago

          This is a common misperceptions that Tesla could do more to counter, the model X is NOT the $35,000 car, the $35,000 is their next major chassis release slated for 2017. The Model X is based on the same chassis as the Model S and will be priced identically so starting at about $95,000 in Australia.

      • Rob G 5 years ago

        Yes, I’d like to know more about the car battery home storage. I’ve read how the mass of electric cars could play a very significant role to grid power supply in the coming years.
        At the expo I saw a charge plug for all home EVs and the retail cost was just 1K AUD!! They said it would charge a Tesla in 1hr and had software to juggle a charge via rooftop solar power. Amazing and sounds almost too good to be true….

        • Roger Brown 5 years ago

          Your going to need 3 phase power point to use their Fast charger unit or just use the standard fitting and overnight charge while you sleep.

    • JeffJL 5 years ago

      At 200+ cars in the NSW market I find it hard to believe that it is 20% of the EV market. More like 80%+.

      • Rob G 5 years ago

        The Nissan Leaf has a bigger market share as I understand it. But remember, that Tesla has only been in oz 8 months – that’s impressive by any standards. The nissan got a head start.

  3. Roger Brown 5 years ago

    How do they work out a 7kWh P/Wall needs a 5 kw solar system (panels/ inverter etc etc) to run a house or could you use a 3 kw system connected to a 7 kWh PW ? So could you use a 2000w water jug for 1 hr = 2kWhs ? Today I made 10.20 kWh in a just under a 10 hour day , on a 3kw system (Qld) . I use about 7-9 kWh a day. Would have to look for a smaller system ? watts going on , we need a simple article /pics to explain to What goes where/ why and how things operate to the masses without solar and some with solar?

    • RobS 5 years ago

      7-9kwh a day is extraordinarily low, do you use gas for water/space heating and cooking?

      • Roger Brown 5 years ago

        Solar hot water – Solarhart Frost model 22 yrs and counting and a gas hot plates .2 x A/C’s one old box type and a split system , electric oven and hot water back up. I do my washing at night . Found my last Origin bill , $19.11 amount due and a 7.48 kWh average and the same as last year. Works out about 3 tonne of Greenhouse Gas Emissions for me this year.

        • RobS 5 years ago

          Is your 7-9kwh total consumption or net consumption once solar output is subtracted?

          • Doug 5 years ago

            Hi,
            I am amazed at the response to this article!

            I am building 2 of home units for persons with a disability, & the design has 8Kw of solar designed in. I am considering Batteries, but yet to decide. The current design uses excess PV energy to heat water with electric storage HWS. (To answer the qiuestion above, yes it is now economical to use excess energy this way). The water heating is accomplished by a ‘smart’ switch from an English open source design (Mk2PV), that measures the grid feed, then triggers an electronic switch to dump the excess to the HWS. I will use 2.4Kw elements so the HWS can be plugged to a power point (with the smart switch in between). These units should be very energy efficient (I hope for an award when finished).
            The comment about agriculture & battery storage above brings me to another prediction: Battery storage, Computer controlled smaller battery powered tractors that can dock themselves & charge when required, as well as working relatively quietly 24/7 will soon be economically viable as diesel replacement. This alone will have an impact on Australias balance of payments dueto reduced fuel imports. Miners are already looking at Battery powered vehicles. It is possible already to buy turn-key Solar power generation based on containers. Excess power can be sold to the grid (where it will interface nicely with EV vehicles).
            I cannot wait for the revolution!

          • jeremy 5 years ago

            for hot water I would suggest an electric heat exchange unit with large storage running on a timer that charges from your solar panels throughout the day. The one I have uses a max 1kwh and needs about 3 hours to heat up my tank. My 3k solar PV easily runs this…so effectivly free hot water once set up.

          • Roger Brown 5 years ago

            New bill statement= Energy use total = 607 kWh , Solar feed in = 881 kWh. Average daily use = 6.98 kWh , same time last year = 7.33 kWh . All from a 3 KW system facing North in qld.

        • Mike Dill 5 years ago

          As the cost of PV has dropped, I can see where adding another KW on the roof might be more cost effective than solar hot water (especially in the summer). I do not know how the numbers work out currently, and I would like someone to show me the math.

          • WR 5 years ago

            I recall that researchers from one of the universities tested this fairly recently, but I don’t recall which one. From memory, I think their findings were that for the northern half of Australia, solar hot water was currently the most cost-effective option, while for the southern half of Australia, extra PV + electrical HW was more cost-effective. Try an internet search to see if you can find the study.

          • JeffJL 5 years ago

            With the new heat pumps use extra PV. Once a hot water system is up to temp you get no more use of the sun. With a PV system you continue to produce power. I cannot see how in the northern half SHW would be better. It would be up at temp and not producing anything most of the time during the day.

            Disclaimer. I have SHW, 1.4PV and live in Perth.

          • Roger Brown 5 years ago

            I did read somewhere that heating water is a large part of your power bill .

    • markz 5 years ago

      Hi Roger,

      I’be been trying to work this out too.

      I have 5kW system with microinverters. Living under Illawarra escarpment in Wollongong the west facing panels stop about 2:30pm these days. So at this time of year most of the generation is in the morning,peaking at 12:30pm but then dropping off rapidly. I will be OK in summer but what I am trying to work out is what storage I need to use the energy I generate.

      Below are the figures (kW) for last couple of weeks (column1 what I generate, column2 the difference between what I have been exporting and importing) which have been exceptionally cold and overcast on a few days. So, a bit more than 7Kwh storage needed here! (and any expansion of the number of panels would have to be on east and north side

      Generate Export – Import
      3.70 -10
      11.60 -3
      12.00 2
      10.10 1
      9.80 -3
      12.90 2
      12.00 2
      3.90 -4
      5.04 -4
      4.30 -15
      12.90 -2
      12.90 -5
      12.30 0

      • Mike Dill 5 years ago

        I will assume that these are daily figures averaged over the week. Your worst case was a week where you imported an average of 15KWH per day, but your average (poor) weeks see a draw of about 4 – 5 KWH per day.
        Unless you are RICH, you do not want to cover your max draw with batteries. Another 2 KW on your roof would give you enough extra for most of the winter, and a small gas generator will see you through the few weeks that are the worst, for much less than the cost of another p/wall.
        If you assume that you can draw 7 KWH daily from storage, then with another 2KW on your roof, over the last 3 months you had two weeks where you would run a generator for a few hours a day to cover the difference. (Assume a 3kw genset, then 200KWH excess draw equals about 70 hours on the generator for the quarter, which might be all you would need for the year.)

        Before you (or anyone else) do any of this, upgrade your insulation, look at getting a ground heat source heating/cooling system (if possible), and do what you can to reduce your demand. Those changes can be somewhat pricey, but will save you over the longer term.

        • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

          Ground-source heat pumps are not a big market in Australia. Air-source inverters (air conditioners with reverse cycle heating option) are vastly more common, nearly as efficient, far cheaper to buy and far simpler and cheaper to install. Not that ground source is a bad idea, but IMO it makes financial sense only in colder climates and/or for new buildings.

        • markz 5 years ago

          Figures are daily for the last couple of weeks as June/July is my big problem under the escarpment, so the problem I have to solve is usage from early May to early Aug (assuming my western panels solve any summer problem).

          So what I’m after is just the figures as to what are the options for storage needed. As you say a generator as backup would be part of it. I have just switched off the gas (so now Quantum heat pump, induction cooktop, reverse cycle air con). The solar panels have been in for a couple of months,

          But what would be a comfortable level of storage and what price is the question..

          I assume with storage I will lose up to 20% in charging and other overheads, ie takes 8.4kWh to charge 7kWh battery.

          But then getting prices on what is needed is the hard part, such as what a 7kWh P/Wall will actually end up costing. The the 10kWh Redflow zinc-bromide looks sensible, but how much. I have seen articles by Giles where he states “ZBM3 is a 5kW/11kWh product…. warranted at 22MWh …its energy delivery cost per kWh is … $US0.44 (€0.38)” so I presume that means (22MWh/11kWh) 2,000 discharges, and .44/kWh means (.44cents * 20Mwh) US$9.680, so although ” 40 per cent cheaper than its first generation products” it doesn’t seem that cheap and I’m not sure how much of the installation that cost would cover. The BYD Lithium 8kwh, 3kw Distributed Energy Storage System has been referrd to on posts here.

          Anyway first step is to see what usage I have — what solar I generate, how much of that I use as opposed to export, so what level of battery storage could do what and how much energy I have to recharge them.

  4. James Ray 5 years ago

    Yes batteries and energy storage in general has an enormous potential. Yes Australia is a good market for the reasons cited. Yes battery storage is more environmentally sustainable than the status quo (particularly if using lithium ion batteries instead of lead acid batteries). Yes Tesla’s Powerwall has aesthetic appeal, and has a strong global brand backing it.

    However, economic incentives are important to many, and I think this article downplays that. More is needed to reduce the cost of batteries and restructure tariffs to electricity pricing. Decentralised energy trading like is currently done on the NEM spot market is needed, rather than tariffs. Tesla’s $5b gigafactory will reduce costs, but more factories need to be built.

    If I had my own property to own a solar system or invest in a community owned renewable energy site, would I also invest in batteries? Probably not. I would seek other ways to invest in sustainable energy, such as looking into investing in battery R&D and manufacturing, e.g. with Tesla; or investing in Green bonds. In the mean time, I’d probably buy Green Power, if my cotenant was open to the idea–which he isn’t–even if I paid for an extra.

    In Australia, too much manufacturing is done overseas, and not enough here. More needs to be done to encourage manufacturing here. Cooperatives may be a good way of doing this, as is done with Earthworker Cooperative.

    • JonathanMaddox 5 years ago

      I’m guessing you weren’t the first person to buy an iPhone when they first came out either.

      • James Ray 5 years ago

        You guessed right Jonathan! I look for the most sustainable opportunities to buy into, and at the moment I don’t know if batteries are worth buying yet. I only bought a smart phone a few months ago–that was a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini.

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